Saturday, December 09, 2006

Amendments Wish List 2006

Tis the season to worship mass production and mass consumption. Um, wait.

Tis the season to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and do the Snoopy dance to that wicked awesome jazz score. Ah, better.

And now, for my note to Sanity Clause.

Dear Santa:

I have been extra good this year and voted to make Katherine Harris pine for the days of 2000. I hope all is well at the North Pole and that you're planning a sweet vacation to Jamaica when December 26 rolls around.

I hope it's alright if I send you a wish list of amendments I'd like to see passed by this new Congress and sent around to the states for ratification. A lot of these are ones I know are kinda frivilous, but if passed they could really improve our lives in subtle and moving ways.

  • I'd like an amendment that anyone making accusations of others acting in a treasonous fashion without hard evidence as required by the Constitution be ever after labeled a douchebag, even to where such label gets put on that person's driver's license, resume, business card, phone listing, blog, byline, what have you. Hello, Limbaugh/O'Reilly/Coulter/Malkin/Savage/God knows how many other right wingnuts out there. you're gonna have to find other ways of insulting liberals, moderates, progressives, libertarians, antiwar supporters, basically the 60 percent and growing population out there...
  • I'd like an amendment that anyone decrying 'San Francisco Values' be forced to travel to Colma, the Necropolis of San Francisco, and pay their respects to the Emperor Norton. Afterwards, that person will be required to eat Rice-A-Roni the San Franciso Treat for the rest of his/her natural life.
  • A neat amendment would be a requirement that all organized team sports that sells tickets for persons to attend their games use a postseason playoff system of no less than 4 teams. While this won't do a thing to nearly every team sport out there, this will finally force the NCAA to get rid of that godawful B(C)S system and go with a playoff system that would really settle the college football national champion issue ONCE AND FOR ALL. Sheesh. P.S. Go Gators. Actually, this year, Go Boise State! Stay undefeated and claim the title when Florida whomps Ohio State...
  • An amendment to get Esquire magazine editors to admit they don't worship Jennfier Connelly for her eyebrows, but for her breasts.
  • An amendment to make all Beltway talking heads to relocate to Billings Montana and work the weekly farm reports after 4 years of service. There ought to be a term limit for media hogs more so than for politicans. At least we can vote out the idiot pols.
  • An amendment to make Hugh Hefner date a woman the same age he is. Or at least mix his harem with brunettes. Dammit man, all those blondes, you're gonna go blind from the peroxide shine!
  • An amendment to make Dennis Miller funny again.
  • An amendment to get Tom Tancredo to say those things about Miami right in the middle of Little Havana.
  • An amendment requiring that the political party that votes with greater numbers for a war have its college-level supporters go fight that war.
  • An amendment changing our national anthem from 'Star Spangled Banner' to 'Theme from Shaft.' Oh cmon, the Olympics will get that much funkier.
  • An amendment allowing people to have their cable companies and satellite dish providers allow them to pick and choose which channels to have sent into their homes. That means you can trade in a worthless network like FOX News for something more relevant like, oh, the Anime Network (um, have they gotten Girls Bravo yet?).

And Santa, oh please let me have this one amendment idea for sure this Christmas time:

  • An amendment making Bill O'Reilly celebrate Mithras instead of Christmas. He'll have to pay for his own bull to sacrifice, too.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What The Democrats Should Do The Next Two Years

Well, I had gotten caught up in a few other projects, namely a National Novel Writing Contest that naturally I'm not going to finish in time (sigh). I had tried writing up a post just before the Nov. 2006 midterm election about the horrific amount of mudslinging and election-day dirty tricks that had been going on, and any suggestions on how to fix our electoral system so that our elections are honest, fair and smudge-free. It's still on my draft board, and someday I'll get around to it.

Instead, with the election over and with the Democratic Party now in firm control of both houses of Congress, the big topic inside the Beltway has been "How evil and backstabbing" that mean ole Wicked Witch of the West Nancy Pelosi is. Sigh. Some things don't change, do they? Seriously, the big topic has been "What will the Dems do with their control of Congress?"

Some issues are unavoidable. Iraq has become such a mess that 'Civil War' is now the only way to describe the situation there.

Some issues are so easy to highlight. One example: Raising the minimum wage was practically the only nation-wide campaign theme the Dems had going. Considering that at the state level EVERY STATE that had a Minimum Wage Increase referendum passed their referendums (meaning that this is something voters across the board WANT), you know the Dems will be voting a national wage increase first chance they get.

Some issues had been stealthy. No one wanted to talk about how a Democrat-controlled Congress will fare against a Bush Administration that had gotten used to doing things their way under the last 6 years of One-Party-Rule. But now it's here. And now you have to consider the increase in congressional subpoenas that are going to head down Pennsylvania Ave come January...

So, here it is, my laundry list suggestion of things the Democrats should, and could, do now they have control of Congress.

I've divided this up into three sections: Domestic Issues, Foreign Policy Issues, and Reform Issues.

Domestic Issues:
  • Obviously, boost the minimum wage. Nearly every newspaper editor, TV pundit, and street-corner prophet knows the Dems will make this a signature opening move on Day One. You may hear screams from the pro-CEO crowd that increasing wages will force companies to raise prices (eek! Inflation!). But things have been increasing in price already without the salary adjustments to average American wages since the last wage increase. Businesses haven't been including Cost-Of-Living increases to people's Annual Evaluation increases (or in some cases the other way around) in the last 25 years, whereas before both COLAs and Evaluation increases used to be the way of things in the 1950s and 1960s, back when wages really meant something. There ought to be ways to ensure that the coming wage increase won't affect inflation. The priority is to improve people's wage earnings: there are far too many families sliding toward or are now under that Poverty Line...
  • Another suggestion I have is add a Salary Cap to CEOs. Oooooooh, that's gonna touch a nerve. Back in the 1950s, CEOs were making roughly 20 times more than the average middle class worker. Today: it's over 200 times more. CEOs and upper management get massive salaries not to mention perks that average workers don't get, and along with that they also get better Annual Evaluation boosts to their earnings (I saw an USA Today article, swear I did, that showed CEOs getting 25 percent increases where the average worker got a 2-5 percent increase. I am still looking for that article and will cite ASAP). If companies are serious about holding down costs, why don't they do something about how expensive their top employees really are? Oh, right, we'd be taking away their ability to pay for that 5th executive golf course country club they joined yesterday. And that 5-car garage mansion with 10 extra dining rooms they never use but love to show off. So here's my suggestion: Put a Cap on any CEO/President of a company employing more than 100 people to where said CEO/President's salary (combined with perks such as stock options, performance bonuses, company-owned items like cars planes and vacation homes) is 20 times more than the average non-management level employee. It should do two things: cut down on high-priced CEO salaries, and increase the employees' wages so that their average wage goes up to give said CEO justalittlebitmoremoney. Don't call me a communist: Call me a fan of the NFL. Thank you Pete Rozelle. Woot.
  • Do something about Medicare. The 'reform' package passed under Bush's watch has proved too expensive (that they lied about the costs to Congress before the bill passed remains one of my major grievances with the Bushies). The costs of pills, one of the biggest items on any bill for those on Medicare, have not gone down. There are serious flaws in the Medicare program, and while a majority of Americans don't see it as a higher priority (Iraq, Iraq, and oh yeah Britney's impending divorce) they still feel it's a major problem in need of fixing. Personally, I'd suggest doing something to lower prescription costs, again doing it in a way that the costs don't get shifted somewhere else; I'd also do something about the increased bureaucracy and cut back on that. And there's something about how Plan B on Medicare got twisted to where it will collapse on itself by the next decade: That doesn't sound good.
  • Alternate Energy Programs: Very simple reasoning. Let's get rid of dependence on foreign fuel. We're in the Middle East because of oil: we want peace in the region to improve our access to it (and there are some who want war in the region to hinder our access and increase the value of the oil we can get). We wouldn't care much about Venezuela being run by an egomanaic if there wasn't oil there. Oh, and a lot of the renewable 'alternate energy' resources don't pollute as much as oil and coal and nuclear power do.

Foreign Policy Issues:
  • Obviously. Iraq. Oh, yes, let's talk about cutting and running. Because that's pretty much the only option left to us. There may be a blue-ribbon committee coming out with its recommendations soon, but what options we have aren't healthy ones. We can't stay, that much is obvious, and sooner or later our troops need to exit Iraq (and head back to Afghanistan where we're losing the one real victory Bush had against the Taliban and Al Qaida). Other options include partitioning Iraq, effectively Balkanizing the nation into its three ethnic sections: North Iraq becomes Kurdistan; Central Iraq for the Sunnis; South Iraq for the Shia. Problems with that? Most times a nation gets split up like that, the surviving new nations hate each other with a vengeance (try India and Pakistan) and immediately go to war on each other (hello, what's left of Yugoslavia!), especially when they'll be stoked to anger by their neighbors (wanna trust the Sunni nation to Syria and the Shia nation to Iran?). Plus, Turkey will not be thrilled with a Kurdish state at their border while Kurdish insurgents inside their nation will be pumped with the urge to have their parts of Turkey annexed to the new Kurd nation. Our other options would include getting other nations to take over the rebuilding process (no one will want the job); increase our troop deployment and go back to waging a full-time war against the insurgents and outside agitators (we don't have the manpower anymore: the Two-Front Army planned for years has finally been stretched too thin); a more drastic option would be to spread the war to the nations most likely supporting the failures in Iraq as a way of cutting back the horrors in Iraq (meaning invading Iran and/or Syria, which would inflame more Islamic extremists across Asia and Africa into thinking this is a full-out Christian Crusade against Islam). One option that makes the most sense is getting Iran and Syria into direct negotiations and barter out a deal to end their support of the insurgency. My suggestion would be to bring in all Middle East nations to such a summit: Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Qatar, UAB, even Egypt and some of the former Russia-stans in the region. I wouldn't bring in Israel or Gaza Palestine into it, either in discussion or by inviting them to said summit: we do that and Syria and Iran will go out of their way to make Israel their bogeyman issue and intentionally fail the talks. I'd bring Lebanon into the mix, but their issues with Syria right now would prove distracting, so that one I'm not sure about. We have got to get all the Middle East nations to recognize that a stable united Iraq is in their mutual best interests. And if it means we have to flat-out bribe some of them into supporting a stable Iraq, well then we'll need to invite China because they've got all our money right now.
  • It's not much, but Congress could do something to improve our international image, which isn't much right now thankyouverymuchGeorge. I dunno, maybe send all the other nations a nice whipped-cream-topping cake, or hey cupcakes from magnolias Bakery mmmmm that ought to work...

Reform Issues:
Corruption turned out to be a major voter-turnout issue, not surprising seeing how the GOP-led Congress was filled to the rafters with lobbyist payoffs, nespotic-like incompetence, self-serving greed, blind ignorance to the criminal activities of colleagues, etc. Now with the GOP out of favor, what can the Dems do?
  • Go back to the Roberts Rule of Order! The GOP during its tenure of power had been very naughty ignoring committee protocols, hiding meetings, refusing to follow voting procedures, what have you. Enforcing rules of order, even on themselves, will go a long way toward making voters trust Congress more than they do now.
  • Strengthen the Ethics Committee. While the Ethics committee for Congress has been notoriously lax in enforcing any kind of ethics on their fellow legislators, under the Gingrinch/DeLay years (forget Hastert, he was following DeLay's lead more often than not) the committee became a flat-out joke. When DeLay got caught committing major infractions no one could ignore, his buddy Hastert simply got rid of the committee members they didn't trust and installed lackeys who would look the other way. There were a handful of other things the Ethics Committee never got around to facing, and Abramoff was at the center of most of it. If there was anything the Ethics Committee did right... it was probably in their selection of what breakfast pastries to have at their morning sessions. If I were the Democrats, even though this might come back to bite their own party on their collective ass, I would grant the Ethics Committee more independence from Congress to prevent tampering the way DeLay/Hastert did; I would grant them greater investigation enforcement powers, and the ability to issue criminal charges where warranted; I would do whatever it took to end all of the blatantly criminal activities going on between congresspersons and lobbyists, and even all the subtle sh-t too.
  • Make no-bid contracts illegal. Investigate the existing no-bid contracted companies and make sure they stop ripping us taxpayers off.
  • Protect the Constitution from Bush/Cheney's attempt to seize all the power under the Executive branch. Make the White House accountable to the law. That does mean subpoenas and investigations into a lot of the criminal activity, and yes it is criminal what they are trying to do.

There. That's my laundry list. Now, back to figuring out how to end mudslinging without destroying the First Amendment...

Monday, October 30, 2006

What amendment could stop mudslinging?

I had started writing this before the November 2006 election, but had gotten distracted by RL issues. This is a continuation post-election, with concerns about how negative campaigning will affect the 2008 elections:

The closer we get to an Election Day, the more negative advertisements you get on your televisions. And your radios. And your telephones. If the campaigns had a way to broadcast directly into your heads, we'd be having psychic mudslinging 24/7.

Here's a set of examples from 2006:
  • Incumbent Mike DeWine (R) running an ad claiming his opponent Sherrod Brown (D) hadn't paid unemployment taxes years ago... whichwas false (the tax lien was paid but the paperwork on it wasn't filed by the government until recently). Even after the facts were laid out, the GOP refused to back down from the claim.
  • In Tennessee, well if I just say "Tennessee bimbo" you'll immediately recognize the infamous race-baiting ad that Republican Bob Corker had running that insinuated his African-American Democratic opponent Harold Ford had a thing for white women. (Sidenote: the SOB responsible for the ad, Terry Nelson, had been hired by John McCain to assist on McCain's 2008 Presidential bid. One more reason I no longer support McCain).
  • In Connecticut, Joe Lieberman pulled out a cartoon bear that attacked his primary opponent Ned Lamont of association with Lieberman's ancient opponent Lowell Weicker, implying that Lamont will share Weicker's weaknesses (absenteeism, wacky voting record, stealing people's picnic baskets, etc.).
  • Here's a site which has a list of some of the worst mudslinging across the nation, from both Republicans and Democrats.

And these are just the ones I can fit here. There's bad blood in nearly every state in nearly every election.

I'm not the only one complaining about this: here's a link to a Slate commentary on it. Pick your choice of newspaper and you're bound to find an editorial comment decrying the mudslinging and how worse it's become. Because, sad to say it, this sort of crap has been flung about ever since the parties came into existence here...

Let's go back to the first true open election, the one in 1796 when George Washington refused to serve a third term. For the love of all that's holy, we had mudslinging back then between the Federalists and the Republicans (they would evolve into Democrats waaaaaay later). And that was just the beginning of open partisan politics.
  • The election in 1800 was worse than that. Sally Hemmings *is* the original scandal girl.
  • Let's try 1824, with the mudslinging directed at Andrew Jackson, and specifically at his wife: her divorce hadn't been finalized when they married, so critics accused them of bigamy. She died during the election year, and Jackson believed those mudslingers had killed her.
  • Try 1860 and 1864. Southerners burned Lincoln in effigy in 1860, which kinda made it tough for him to campaign in those states. Race-baiting Democrats for the 1864 election, in the midst of the Civil War, actually invented a new word miscegenation to accuse Republicans of wanting black men to marry white daughters.
  • Try the greatest election scandal ever in 1884 when Grover Cleveland was running for the White House: "Ma! Ma! Where's my Pa?" Which the Republicans were using to hide the fact that their candidate Blaine was caught in business and financial scandals. Mark Twain famously noted that as Cleveland was honest in politics and Blaine honest in private life that Cleveland should be elected to public office and Blaine left to the private life.
  • Try 1964. LBJ's campaign painting Goldwater as a nutcase. The infamous Daisy ad, implying Goldwater would call down a nuclear countdown, the crowning achievement of mudslinging advertisements.
  • Try 1988. Willie Horton.
  • Try the Clinton years. Oh ye Gods. The Republicans are still throwing mud at Slick Willy, and he's not even in office anymore.
And again, I could go on.

And the problem is, how in God's name can we stop this?

Mudslinging may be traditional but it's a horrible one: it forces voters to look at the negatives, and sometimes those negatives are fabricated or unrelated to the issues at hand. Why worry about failing schools and low wages and almost no job security when you could worry instead about the snuke in Hilary's crotch?

The problem is, for all intents, this gets up close to the First Amendment if not fully under its protective umbrella. The rules allowing for free speech, for the right to assemble, to petition grievances. You have the right to point out the flaws of others, and especially the right to point out the flaws of potential political leaders. But honestly, does that give the right to insult and defame, which is all we really get anymore?

One possible solution at hand is to point out that not all speech is protected: Speech that could could form a clear and present danger, for example, any speech that would incite violence or rioting - that's not protected speech. Calling out 'FIRE' in a crowded theater when there is no fire, almost certain to cause a stampede of doom, is certainly not protected speech. We should extend that a little further:

  • Lying is not protected speech.
That should be a given anyway. Hell, aren't we getting hammered for the need to put the Ten Commandments into our courtrooms and classrooms and offices and all? Isn't there a Commandment against false witness? Gee, you'd think a lot of politicians would support an effort to make false witness/lying a crime in all circumstances, right...?

The judicial system has penalties in place for things like Obstruction, Perjury, and Lying to investigators. We need something like that in the public arena of the media and in official political statements. Libel and slander laws don't seem to cut it anymore. We need laws that say a politician, or a spokesperson, cannot make statements that can be proven false. If we do have a law like that on the books (and why does it look like we don't?), then it needs to be renewed, reinforced, re-established. With succifient penalties to back it up.

If you think that would force politicians into revealing state secrets, relax. They can always rely on a truthful statement like "I cannot comment on that." There. Truthful without having to say anything. Of course, if your spokesman has to keep saying "No Comment," you're going to have problems of some kind anyway so...

All I'm saying is: If we can penalize those in office who lie, or those running for office who lie, that should have the proper effect of reducing a lot of the mudslinging and negative campaigning out there. Less mudslinging = more positivie campaigns = more voters with a positive view of elections and commitment to civic duties.

UPDATE: Oh great this is originally showing the post-date of October 2006, when I first started writing it, rather than the date I finally got around to finishing it (April 12, 2007). Wonder if this updating will fix it...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Amendment Suggestion 2: this is one I've offered before

This was something I'd posted at my WittyLibrarian site last year...

  • No candidate for elected office can announce, raise funding for, or organize a campaign until the first month of that year of election.

This was the original point I'd made then, and it's still relevant today:

This is a response to how the Presidental campaign has devolved. When you've got Senators and Governors already polling and setting up campaign groups for 2008, three years from now (Hell, we've had Ah-nold campaigning since 2003 for an amendment to let him run for President), then we've got problems. Problems in the form of money that they need to keep these campaigns afloat for so long; ergo, problems in the form of political dealing they make to keep that money coming in.
This is an attempt to shorten the campaign process, and to lessen the costs of an extended campaign. It's to keep campaigns focused, and interesting: people lose interest after two straight years of nudging and posturing and mudslinging and flat-out campaigning. By November of a three-year campaign, people are tired of it. By November of a one-year campaign, there's (with hope) only mild fatigue.
There are no problems to having a shortened, one-year campaign: in this day of instant media across the whole planet, there is no need for extended times to ensure the word gets out. The California Recall (NOTE: dang, was that 2003?) proves that a short, three month campaign at a state level was doable: a nationwide year long campaign should work as well if not moreso. England and other countries are able to hold elections within months of declaring for one.
The only ones who benefit from a multi-year 'campaign' are those who fund them, the lobbyists and deep-pocket groups that want to use their money to buy the influence they need to stay in power. ADDENDUM: The idea is that, the smaller the warchest, the fewer numbers of Quid Pro Quos the elected official will have to pay back. Everyone else benefits (even the candidates, who have to be under serious stress from the greet and meet, see how many of the good ones burn out from the extensive campaigning) from a shortened campaign period. This ought to be a no-brainer amendment to pass...except that the status quo will fight it to the last dollar...

When you look at politicans today, they are in a constant mode of Campaigning. Constantly asking for funds. Constantly building up warchests. Even in years they are not running for office. All that money, all that need for money, can put even the most noble political wonk in serious debt to people who are going to expect their money's worth. If there is any way to cut back on that, we ought to take it.

Also, this amendment should add a second item:
  • No funds collected from previous years, either directly by the candidate or by any group or party that would seek to fund that candidate, can be used in that year's election.
This means that any warchest saved over from previous elections no longer exist. This means the deep pockets can't hold in escrow or in any kind of saving account or lock box (sorry, Al, had to borrow the symbol) for their favorite friends running for office. Everyone starts from scratch at the same spot: zero.

And as I noted before, the status quo is going to fight this amendment idea tooth and nail. The buying of politicians is how they reap billions later from the earmarks and the pork barrels and the tax cuts and the favorable anti-union, deregulatory decisions and... yeah, keep adding. That's what they do.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Amendment Suggestion 1: Checks and Balances

Here's the first amendment idea I want to toss out there:

  1. The President of the United States is NOT above the law.
  2. The checks and balances established in the Constitution of the United States shall be upheld at ALL TIMES.
The George W. Bush administration has, in its last 6 years of operation, gone out of its way to assume, take, and seize political power and authority away from not only the two other branches of government but also from the states. This is a product of the last 40 years of Republican planning: ever since the era of Nixon, hell even before, the GOP had its factions obsessed with Authoritarianism, of having power reside in a powerful unyielding Chief Executive who would never have to answer to the whims of a crowded noisy Congress or an intrusive, 'activist' Court. Think back to what Nixon said to David Frost in the post-Watergate interview he gave in which he expressed the theory: "If the President does it, it's not illegal." See, if a Senator does it, it's illegal. If a soldier does it, it's illegal. If an average citizen does it, it's illegal. But if the President does it, for him and him alone, it's legal.
Under that theory, the President can suspend habeus corpus, not Congress, and the Courts will have nothing to say about it because without habeus there's nothing they CAN say. The President can ignore any treaty he feels like, without the Senate raising a stink. The President can ignore any law Congress passes without even worrying about the Constitutional requirement of a Veto, simply by signing a statement on how he interprets the law as he sees fit. The President can knock over gas stations if he felt like it, under this idea of the President being Above The Law.
This theory is best found under the title of Unitary Executive Theory: that the President is vested by Article II of the Constitution to 'Take care' that the laws are faithfully executed. But if you read that wiki article I linked to, you will see that at nearly every time the President used that theory to expand powers, the Courts struck it down or limited that administration's reach. In the few times that the Courts failed to enforce their ruling, such as when Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court's ruling that he could not force Indians out of their tribal lands, the results were inhumane and ended up being a dark stain in our nation's history.
If you do look at the history of when the President overreached his authority - Jefferson's refusal to seat Adams' midnight judges that led to the Marbury v. Madison; Andrew Jackson's explusion of the Cherokee from Georgia that led to decades of wrongs committed against the Native Americans; Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus that led to Ex Parte Milligan; FDR's internment of Japanese Americans that led to reparation payments after the war; Truman's strike-breaking effort that led to the Youngstown decision; Nixon's domestic spying abuses - there is something wrong with this whole idea of a super-powerful Executive. And as you see there's been a pattern of abuse by these previous administrations, all overshadowed by the horrific excesses of the current administration, that shows something, ANYTHING, needs to be spelled out in black-and-white.
This amendment is meant to spell it out: The President has his limits, and it's the law. Anything defined as illegal by Congress, he can't do, period. Anything ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, he can't do, period. This is a reminder that power is shared in this government, that there is a series of checks and balances, that the President cannot make the law or define the law, he just enforces it and does his job and does it right.
The second part of this amendment idea is that the laws are to be upheld at all times under all circumstances. John Yoo, George W. Bush's legal defender on authoritarianism, argues that during wartime power shifts to the Executive branch. The problem is that becomes an excuse to use the powers as he sees fit, even if they don't relate to the War Effort. And legal history has proved Yoo wrong: Lincoln's suspension of Habeus during the Civil War was ruled Unconstitutional; Truman's strike-break efforts were during the Korean War, again was ruled Unconstitutional. The Courts, interpreting the Constitution as is their authority to do so, has determined that the President cannot claim wartime as an excuse to override the laws of the land. The second part of my amendment spells that out clearly, so there will be no confusion or deception regarding this: THE PRESIDENT IS NOT SHOULD NOT WILL NOT BE ABOVE THE LAW. EVER.
This isn't the best legal argument anyone can make: but it's the right argument to speak for.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I've been busy in the real world with a move to a new job and a new home.

I've also been swamped by the thought of figuring which amendment idea I'd like to toss out there first. Given the sheer scope of stupidity and criminality going on out there, it was hard to think on which amendment would be a surefire argument starter that will get me branded as a traitor or delusional.

I think I've got a good one to start. See you tomorrow with it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What the People Can Do...

So, as stated, if the federal government can't respond to the people's need for much-needed reforms, the states could do so through the Constitutional Amendment process. The next big question is, how can the people get the state governments to respond?

Well, in the immortal words of Fredrick Douglass, Agitate.

Better ways to describe 'agitating' would be:

1) Constant street-level protests focusing on a single topic of needed reform around the state capital until the state lege capitulates and passes a motion to have a convention held on that proposed amendment. It helps to focus on just one topic to a) prevent confusion and b) encourage the state(s) that call for the convention to ensure that convention will stay focused on that reform and not dabble in more divisive amendment proposals.

2) This being an election year, you can see about greeting and meeting the state representatives and state senators running for election. If enough people confront them on getting specific reform amendments passed, that ought to leave an impression on them that people are going to pay attention to what they do, and should encourage them to push for those amendments.

3) Some, probably most, hopefully all, states should have a system of voters submitting referenda and/or amendments at the state level that circumvent the offices of the lege and the governors, and would compel the state government to act on issues the elected officials would rather avoid. In my state of Florida, for example, we have an amendment system in place where voters directly vote on amendments to the Florida Constitution: some of those amendments are added to the ballot via petition-signing campaigns run by single-issue advocates. Some that passed involved an amendment adding a dollar to the current federal minimum wage, an amendment protecting the rights of pregnant pigs, an amendment restricting class sizes in schools (an attempt to reduce overcrowding in classrooms), and a massively controversial amendment forcing the construction of high-speed rail services between the major cities (that amendment was killed off by another amendment that abolished it). A possible *state* amendment that could pass would require the Florida government to automatically push for a federal convention on a particular reform topic.

4) Constant calling and emailing of state legislators. As long as it's done politely, and by the etiquettes of letter-writing and phone-calling, as well as with individual flourishes (they hate cookie-cutter form letters), if enough people submit their concerns that an amendment convention is needed the legislators should respond appropriately.

You may notice something about all 4) items on that checklist: they each require action on your part - our part - to get something done. Agitation is best done with deeds rather than words. It's easy to sit here and type this stuff up: it takes effort to actually go and *do* it.

The impressive thing about the recent wave of protests held predominantly by the Latino communities over the sudden concerns on illegal immigration is that they've actually done it. Considering the level of anger and hostility in this country over Bush's and the GOP Congress's mishandling of affairs (messy and mismanaged war effort, growing deficits from bloated earmarks spending, bribery and corruption across the board, warrantless wiretapping and increasing violations of citizen's civil liberties, cronyism to where loyalty trumps competency, all of that), there haven't been massive protests in this country since the start of the Iraqi war. Where are the anti-war protestors today? Where's the massive crowds of angry libertarians shouting about pork barrel spending bankrupting our childrens' futures? It's one thing to talk the talk: it's better still to walk the walk.

We need action. We need passion in the streets. We need a focus on which to gather our interest. Pushing for reform amendments is a good step in that process.

So. What amendments should we push for?

More to follow...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

How the States Can Help Pass Reform Amendments

Can the normal citizenry of the United States enact reforms on their own when those in power, in Congress and in the White House, fail to achieve such needed reforms themselves? Yes, but it will take work. It would entail using the state legislatures, the power at the local level, to do it. By getting the states to call for amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The Founders, when creating the Constitution, left the power to change that Constitution through the Amendment process (Article 5). There were two ways to propose an amendment: either two-thirds of both Houses of Congress proposed an Amendment; or two-thirds of state legislatures move to have a convention called to create an Amendment.

States do have that power, although there has never been an opportunity to achieve such a moment under the Constitution itself. Every time the states came close to meeting the limit, Congress took it upon themselves, out of fear, to pass that Amendment and prevent the states from calling that convention. The best example was when there was a reform push for direct election of Senators to replace the corrupt cronyist practice of having Senators indirectly placed through state governments (I know there seems a lot of irony involved in how that issue was resolved). The Senate had been blocking that reform for years, but when enough states came close to calling a convention for it, that amendment passed Congress and was later approved as the Seventeenth Amendment.

That fear Congress has for the state-nominated convention is legitimate, however, and I would be negligent if I ignored mentioning it. While having the states call such a Convention would circumvent a recalcitrant Congress (like the one we have now that refuses to consider legitimate political reform), it would also open up a Pandora's box in that such a Convention could do anything it wants and end up submitting a slew of unwanted and divisive amendments for ratification. It could even rewrite the whole Constitution and submit a new one. That's the big fear. Because it's happened before.

THIS Constitution came about because the original Articles of Confederation holding the U.S. together was failing: state powers were being abused, the federal powers were barely existing, there were no controls on business and commerce, or on taxation, or on a respect for law from state to state. So the states were talked into sending representatives to a Convention on the point of amending and fixing the existing Articles. The end results of that Convention was a brand new federated Constitution that noone (except for Hamilton and a few others) expected going into that gathering.

The big fear is that something like this would happen again: Even if the current government passed federal laws defining how any such state-formed convention would run itself, there would be no true guarantees that the convention would stick to an agenda. We could go in with a handful of reform amendments to fix elections and campaigning, and to fix lobbyists' access to politicans, but we could end up with a hundred amendments on every divisive issue from Abortion to School Prayer to Gay Marriage. The convention itself could collapse on such issues without resolving anything.

There are only two things that should encourage us to consider this as a route to genuine reform: One, that if enough states get close to push for this convention on a specific amendment platform (for example, creating an Amendment limiting campaign times to a single year rather than the current near-constant campaigning we have now), it could force Congress to pass their own version to avoid the potential disaster; and Two, that if there are enough people committed to genuine reform involved in this process, we could assure through consensus (a 'Gentleperson's Agreement') that the divisive issues be left to Congress and the decisive issues be handled in the Convention.

So then the question becomes, what can we as ordinary citizens do to get the states to consider these Amendment reform ideas?

More to follow...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Introductions are in order

Welcome to my political blog of ranting and snarkery. Insert smirk here.
My intent with this blog is to insert some positive and constructive suggestions to all the yelling taunting and screaming going on in the current political scene. Oh, I'll add my own yelling and taunting, but I will endeavor to add items of merit to the 'discussions.'
My primary outrage is directed at the current shabby lack of ethics: the corruption as highlighted by Congress Quid Pro Quo-ing with K Street and the Lobbyists, the open lying with BushCheneyCo.'s push into Iraq and methodical destruction of the Constitution's checks and balances, the bullying of media talking heads declaring 'evil' and 'treason' toward anyone showing a modicum of independent and logical thought... Yeah, fun times.
Just today, for example, the House passed a reform bill that essentially had no teeth to it. The New York Times article gives better detail on what is and isn't in the package:
After Mr. Abramoff's plea, Mr. Dreier and (Speaker Hastert) endorsed the idea of barring members of Congress and their aides from accepting trips paid with private money. But the bill the House passed Wednesday would not ban the trips. Rather, it calls for the House ethics committee to draft trip rules by June 15. Before then, privately financed trips will require advance approval from two-thirds of the ethics panel.
Unlike the measure approved by the Senate, the bill does not address the "revolving door," the Capitol Hill term for lawmakers and aides who leave Congress to become lobbyists. The Senate bill aims to rein in that practice by requiring lawmakers and senior aides to refrain from lobbying former colleagues for two years, instead of the current one year.
And there could be so much more added to create genuine reform and end the cycle of greed and mismanaged spending that have turned the last 5 years of Congressional budgeting into one of the biggest deficits this nation has ever seen, one that is threatening the fiscal stability of the United States well into the 21st Century. But noone's pursuing any of that.

Finding genuine reformers in elected office is viciously rare these days: the only way to get elected anymore is with stockpiles of money, and the only way to get those stockpiles is to suck up to whatever special interests and their lobbyists can cough up that dough for you. And those special interests/lobbyists are going to expect their money's worth once you get in. Expecting Congress to reform itself is like expecting Paris Hilton to become a nun (wait, is she Catholic btw...?).

No, in this regard, the American people - the middle class (what's left of it), the poor, the average American that doesn't have $2 million to donate to the Congressman's wife-run charity - are going to have to make the reforms themselves.

And the only way to do that is to get a Constitutional Convention going.

more to follow...