Wednesday, October 28, 2015
A Proposed New Constitution Article 10, Nonprofits and Public Ownership for the Public Interest
Article 10- Nonprofits and Public Ownership for the Public Interest
“1. National defense industries, healthcare, prisons, education, and news media must be nonprofit or publicly owned. No business, corporation, or individual can profit unfairly from federal, state, or local governments or public resources and must pay fair market value for all previous resources, subsidies, and research.”
So much of the worst in American (and all of human) society and history has been driven by the profit motive. So much of US (and state, and local) government practice is corporate welfare, reverse Robin Hood at its worst. From billions for stadiums built for sports teams at the local level to trillions for the Defense Department internationally, government in America often funnels money upward, from the working and middle classes to wealthy elites, and from public lands to private elite hands.
This is naked class warfare, both the cause of and maintenance of deep inequality. Wealth redistribution upward shows that those who maintain government should be run like a business could not be more wrong. (Businessmen also generally have terrible records as presidents.) Some matters are far better left to public management rather than private, done by the state with no private intent or to make a profit because doing so harms us all and is morally repugnant and unjust.
But since partisans of capitalism are generally unmoved by moral arguments, here is another consideration: businesses are far less competent at public enterprises. They tend to think in terms of individual profit for the next quarter, rather than the long term public good. Public parks are one obvious example. No one would reasonably want national parks opened up to strip mining, or the crassest commercial theme parks. Both would lose the parks' great value, aesthetic, public, environmental, and even long term economically, for purely short term profit.
Fire departments are an example we have learned from hard experience should not be private. Early American fire departments were, and they were notorious for incompetence and thievery. When your home caught fire, private fire departments demanded payment before they would put out the fire, negotiating with you while your place burned. Often they stole everything they could in burning homes, even looting neighbor's homes. Competing private fire departments even got into brawls over who would fight the fires, so lucrative was the theft.
Intelligence gathering is another area where privatizing has long been a disaster. But unlike the previous examples, America has yet to learn that lesson. The CIA looms so large in American consciousness, it will surprise many that the US had no national intelligence agency until the Cold War. Lincoln relied on the Pinkerton Detective Agency for intelligence during the Civil War. (They also became notorious for violent union busting.) Pinkerton routinely over estimated Confederate troop strength by 200-300%. US generals like McClellan then often refused to engage the enemy, prolonging the war.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the torturers in prisons like Abu Ghraib likely were private contractors who were unaccountable to US or other law. Some CIA agents volunteered for Iraq for six months, resigned, and then worked for private intelligence companies for several times their previous pay. Besides being overpriced, a high turnover and lack of experienced agents and analysts almost certainly made mistakes that cost American, Iraqi, and Afghan lives, prolonging and worsening both wars.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars gave us still more examples of the folly of privatizing war, relying on mercenaries, the most infamous being Blackwater, later rebranded XE. Blackwater mercenaries opened fire on an Iraqi crowd, massacring dozens. A drunken Blackwater guard also killed no less than the bodyguard of the Iraqi Vice President.
Certainly conventional troops do commit atrocities. But they at least face military law, whose inadequacies are because of the protection of an old boys network. (Often, enlisted and junior officers get punished with prison, while senior officers get their careers ended, but no prison time.) Private mercenaries have far fewer laws to govern them, sometimes none. They are often not bound by military codes nor local laws, and rarely prosecuted, even for atrocities.
Equally disturbing, and most importantly for American society, mercenaries and “contractors” (actually support troops) came to outnumber US troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Without mercenaries, Presidents Bush and Obama would have had to withdraw far sooner, or bring back an incredibly unpopular draft. The public turned against both wars after five years, and so few Americans were enlisting that both the army and marines missed their recruiting goals for years at a time. Relying on mercenaries allowed both presidents to ignore public opinion and keep the wars going over half a decade more. This proposed article by banning mercenaries will end future unpopular wars sooner.
Nations and empires who relied on mercenaries were always undone by them. The Praetorian Guard often chose who would become the next Roman Emperor. Mercenaries in the Thirty and Hundred Years Wars prolonged and worsened both wars. Looting became one of the main ways to pay them, attracting the worst criminal elements into these armies. The French Foreign Legion had an appalling histories of atrocities in Algeria, Vietnam, and within France itself during the Paris Commune uprising. The Spanish Foreign Legion was equally notorious for rapes and other atrocities during the Spanish Civil War and helped put Falangist fascism into power, a dictatorship that killed half a million Spaniards over 40 years.
The US defense industry, in Eisenhower's famous phrase the military-industrial complex, itself was one of the main drivers of the Cold War, then the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and now the current undeclared wars on terrorism in lands from Colombia to central Africa to Yemen to the Philippines. It is also socially and environmentally destructive to the US itself, far out of proportion to its size. The need for war or the threat of war to maintain an American empire distorts our democracy and society, giving us such movements as neoconservatism and government such as Homeland Security with its massive spying. Removing the profit motive will dramatically shrink all of that.
Even if one is unmoved by the moral arguments, one should acknowledge another matter: for profit defense industries are enormously inefficient and wasteful. Weapons routinely cost double or triple original estimates. Some combat planes cost more than if they were literally made of gold. Some military planes, like Howard Hughes' Hercules or “Spruce Goose,” were never in combat at all and barely able to fly. Hercules was the most costly and worthless plane in history.
By contrast, state owned defense industries produced one of the most reliable and low cost of modern weapons, the AK-47, compared to the far worse US commercially made M-16. (The M-16 jammed so often, US soldiers in Vietnam often used them to hold up tents.) Israel's defense industries, easily among the world's very best, have a large part entirely state-owned and much of the rest produced in partnership with the state. In the beginning Israeli weapons were almost entirely produced by collective enterprises.
Prisons are one more area that must remain ruled by and for the public interest. Private for profit prisons give the owners incentives to lock up as many as possible. The need for profit also cannot help but endanger not only the prisoner and the prison guard, but the general public in the long run. Abusive prisons where costs are cut to increase profit will worsen the rate of repeat offenders.
Private for profit healthcare has given the US terrible a far lower life expectancy compared to other industrial nations, especially for its cost. The worst of these US health industries are drug companies, charging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single prescription. Typically drugs cost a tenth in other nations compared to the US. The next costliest nation is Canada, about half that of the US. Two horrifying side effects are that many Americans are over medicated because of the desire for profit, and many more Americans stop or never seek treatment because they cannot afford drug prices.
Public school education is funded unequally in America, with school districts based on income. For profit education private schools reproduce from young ages the inequality and elitism that undermines democracies. Contrary to public perception, US public schools have been getting steadily better for a third of a century. For example, the US dropout rate is now less than one in fourteen, where in the 1970s it was over half. Most of the problems in public schools are problems of economic inequality brought in from outside the schools.
The generally acknowledged best type of schools in the US, Catholic, notably don't have profit as their prime motive, only education. Parochial schools would not be affected by this proposal, only elite institutions. This includes elite private universities, mostly attended by wealthy elites, who receive far more public money per student than public colleges. This corporate welfare add to elite institution graduates dominating most of the upper levels of government. Taking away public giveaways and making them nonprofits will end their old money bias, and at least weaken their hold on the federal government.
“2. No journalist, commentator, or others presenting themselves as experts in politics, history, law, society, health, medicine, or science can make more than five times the median national income, and any excess income must be donated to charity or it will be seized by the federal government.”
Much of the worst actions of the media is driven by profit. This includes not just deliberate falsehoods, but fearmongering, deception, propagandizing, and hostility to empirical thinking and evidence. It was not always so. Believe it or not, as recently as the 1970s, news divisions at major networks were expected to be public services.
The problem is not ideological, for the most part, since some of the worst offenders don't even believe what they preach. To take the most obvious example, Rupert Murdoch does not agree with much of what his network and papers argue. It simply suits his business model to sell an ideology of fear and anger to a declining demographic.
The simplest cure, again, is to remove the profit motive. Media should be nonprofit. A salary cap will help drive out those who harvest fear for the sake of lucre.
Media is enormously class biased in America. When watching a “news” channel one is typically watching multi millionaires who work for multi billionaires. Thus the inevitable class hostility and hatred directed against the poorest. Think how often there are calls to drug test those on welfare. Now try to think of any instance of a call to drug test CEOs and bankers on corporate welfare. Media figures have little idea of what it is to be homeless or work for minimum wage. The best media today is that which is nonprofit, PBS, NPR, and BBC. The worst news media is the most profitable, Fox.
There is an equal need for an end to vast industries of outright hustlers trading in not just fear mongering but pseudo science, from global warming deniers to anti vaccine conspiracists, conspiracy theorists of every kind, and an entire industry of faux medicine, today's equivalent of snake oil that sells by the tens of billions. Faux medicine kills, by the thousands, preying on the desperate who turn to it instead of tested treatments.
Pseudo science kills not just people but democracies. An industry of deliberately false science has convinced two fifths of Americans that global warming is not real. A separate industry of conspiracy theorists long ago ceased to operate with vanity presses and xeroxed pamphlets and today has entire networks peddling conspiracy thinking. Much of 1960s counter culture protest was dissipated chasing phantom Kennedy conspiracies. Much of the outrage against the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was wasted over claims of phantom missiles on September 11, made by those who seem to have never passed high school science classes.
All of the above are still perfectly free to state their opinions. They will simply be unable to profit from them. There is a precedent, in laws that prevent those who commit crimes from benefiting from them. In New York, it was nicknamed the Son of Sam law. The same principle used against mass murderers can and should apply those who make their living by serial lying, that they cannot profit by doing so. Let them show empirical evidence, and if not, no profit. The number of websites claiming JFK was killed by UFOs will shrink rapidly if there is no ad revenue to be made from it. So will faux medicine if there is no profit in it.
“3. All journalists, commentators, and others presenting themselves as experts for mass news media will be fined every time they lie in their articles, broadcasts, or public statements. No person or media outlet can profit from lies or falsehoods and shall be fined at least equal to all profit, money, or benefits made from lies or falsehoods.”
The nation's constitution should not be a defense for falsehoods. Media and media figures should be accountable for what they say and write. Those who argue for free speech of any and all kinds often ignore the fact that the First Amendment does not sanction defamation, libel, or slander. It does not protect incitement to murder nor callous recklessness that leads to mass panic (commonly known as “no right to shout fire in a crowded theater.”) That fact makes the US more free, not less. Neither should the Constitution or American society sanction and allow profit from the deliberate and knowing spread of falsehoods.
For an opinion is different from a fact, despite the mushy solipcist's claim that everything is an opinion. The simplest way to toss solipcism to the side is to ask the believer to point a loaded gun at his toe and fire. Let him then tell us that his bloody foot and limp is just an opinion.
Facts are black letter realities, and their truths are often simple Cartesian logic. Most often, either something is or is not true. An opinion brings in interpretation, hopefully backed by solid evidence. For example, an opinion is that capitalism or socialism is superior to the other, or a third system superior to both. It is not an opinion that capitalism is less than 500 years old, it is fact. It is a blatant falsehood that “free markets” have always been around. The fallacy is a mere ideological propaganda claim, known to non-dogmatic scholars in the social sciences as the naturalizing tendency of capitalism.
Falsehoods in journalism undermine the central purpose of journalism, and should not be allowed anymore than one should teach in math classes that two plus two equals five. What is just punishment for one posing as an expert spreading deliberate falsehoods, or lazily passing them along without checking or because it suits their ideology? Fines should equal any and all profit made from lies, including salary, royalties, and advertising revenue, plus the market value of all free publicity gained by falsehoods.
Again, no one is proposing interfering with anyone's mythical “right” to be a serial liar, only their profiting from destructive lies. To give it an old fashioned analogy, one could still hand out books with falsehoods for free. You just can't sell the book to make a profit.
“4. The agency in charge of judging lies and falsehoods by journalists, commentators, or experts for the mass media must be entirely of respected historians for matters of history and politics, respected legal scholars for matters of law, and respected scientists or doctors for matters of science, medicine, and health, and shall be nonpartisan, with no member affiliated with any party.”
A completely nonpartisan and expert agency is needed to judge and enforce these new laws. Otherwise the agency would inevitably become censorship by one party or ideology upon all others. Thus the need to be very specific, written within the new Constitution and not within ordinary or easily repealed law, in who would make up such an agency, and in what they judge. It must be made up of experts in the particular fields, the most highly regarded in those fields, not partisan hacks nor self deluded amateurs.
If defamation, libel, and slander can be punished without harming freedom of the press, then why not this? If a judge or jury can assess such matters, why not an agency with members far more trained than the general public? In fact, we do have a model for such an agency in the current existence of fact checking sites online. The great majority of these sites have laudable records as badly needed resources. What this article simply proposes is that such assessments add financial penalties so that none profit from willful or ideologically driven lying.