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...