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Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Will We Make of It?

On April 26, 1777, while serving in the Continental Congress and fretting over the war-at-hand, John Adams took some time to write “ his dearest friend” and wife, Abigail.  After pouring out concerns over his health and lack of news from Europe, and lack of replenishment of General Washington’s troops by Massachusetts soldiers, he expressed some deep frustration:

   “Posterity!  You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom!  I hope you will make a good Use of it.  If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

We are the Posterity to whom Adams spoke so long ago.  And now, we have to ask ourselves: What use will we make of the Constitution?  As if to answer that question, R.B. Bernstein, in The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, had this to say:

   “The Preamble’s statement that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to ‘form a more perfect Union’… suggests the framers’ recognition that the Constitution not only was improving on the Union as defined by the Articles of Confederation, but that both it and the Union were capable of further improvement.  Indeed, during the ratification controversy many supporters of the Constitution invoked the amending process codified in that document’s Article V as a mechanism for repairing defects in the original Constitution.  With this remedy available…the Constitution’s backers described the choice before the American people as between the hope of future good and no hope at all.”

In a 1987 address on the bicentennial celebration of the Constitution, Associate Justice, Thurgood Marshall, declined to share the ‘complacent belief’ that the vision of a ‘more perfect Union’ had already come to pass. 

    “I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention.  To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government…we hold as fundamental today.”

He then concluded:

   “We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making….I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

Finally, newly elected President, Barack Obama, in his 2008 election victory speech, put it this way:

   “That’s the true genius of America, that America can change.  Our Union can be perfected.  And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

It is in that spirit that I once again present possible amendments to our Constitution in a different format and amended wording than seen in my Blog of June 20, 2010.  Knowing that my language does not always meet a legal level of acceptance, I nonetheless am hopeful that I am capturing the hopes of many Americans that we can change for the better and add to the perfection of the Union.

Thus, I am presenting here amendments that have to do with reform of the electoral process, reform of Congress, enhancement of citizen participation in government and a basic reform of the amendment process itself that allows for the citizenry to initiate constitutional amendments.  In light of the contention over the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and the subsequent proposals existing for an amendment that would overturn the designation of corporations as individuals with all the rights of individuals, I would say that my approach has been less to do with the personhood of corporations and more to do with the coercive power of corporate and other entities who seek to fashion government and governmental laws and processes to their advantage and control.  This is not to say that the various suggestions for repealing Citizens United in amendments should not be incorporated into my own approach.  They probably should; but I stand firm in my belief that any such amendment should incorporate a restriction of their power to influence elections and governmental operations.

With that said, let me also interject that the latest attempts by radical Republicans to abrogate various rights of women, is reason enough to revive talk of an amendment specifically devoted to women’s rights and issues, in my opinion.  The Equal Rights Amendment with amplifications would seem about right in this poisonous atmosphere, Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding.

AMENDMENT XXVIII
Amendments to this Constitution

Section 1.     The Congress, upon direct citizen petition by at least one-fourth of the population of one-third of the several states, or, on passage of ballot propositions in one-half of the several States, shall, in a timely manner, propose such amendments to this Constitution as are contained in said petitions or propositions; or, shall call a convention for proposing such amendments; which amendments shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution when ratified in a manner prescribed by this Constitution.

Section 2.     Members of a Constitutional Convention shall be chosen by special election  in the several states, with the proviso that no more than one-fourth of the delegate nominees may currently hold an elective or appointive government office.  No Delegate nominee shall be associated in any way with paid or compensated lobbying organized for the purpose of influencing governmental legislation or operation at any level.

Section 3.    Congress shall determine the number of Convention delegates allowed from each state, based on each state’s current congressional representation or an equitable proportion thereof.

AMENDMENT XXIX
Election Reform

Section 1.    All campaigns for federal elective Office shall be financed by funds drawn from the Treasury in consequence of appropriations made by law, and by individual citizen contributions, but may not be funded by any corporate or organized entity.

Section 2.    Congress shall set strict limitations for individual contributions, and shall prescribe maximum limits for governmental expenditures allowed for each contested primary or general election for Office.

Section 3.    All campaign materials, including public advertisements, shall be authorized and financed by each candidate, utilizing contributions allowed under Section 1.  No campaign materials or advertisements may be sponsored or financed by a third party, or by any corporate or other organized entity.

Section 4.    Each State shall regulate the campaigns and elections to state and local offices in accordance with the provisions of this amendment.

Section 5.    Congress shall have the power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

AMENDMENT XXX
Abolition of Gifts to Members of Government

Section 1.    No member of the Congress, of the Executive branch, or of the Judiciary shall solicit, accept or receive any compensation, special privilege, emolument, gift, in-kind contribution, or any other form of contribution from any individual, corporation or organized entity, for personal, official or elective purposes, or as an incentive to influence the outcome of particular legislation, oversight function, committee process, regulation, contract or judiciary decision.

Section 2.    Any member of government found to be in violation of this provision shall be removed from currently held office, and shall be ineligible to seek any elective or appointive governmental office in the future.

Section 3.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

AMENDMENT XXXI
Term Limits

Section 1.    Term of office for members of the House of Representatives shall be limited to four full terms of  three years each, or a cumulative total of twelve years; excepting, that if a member is appointed to fill a term to which some other person was elected, the first year of that partial term shall not be counted toward this total tenure.

Section 2.    No person shall  be elected to the Office of Senator for more than two full terms of six years each, or a cumulative total of twelve years; excepting that, if a person is appointed to fill a term to which some other person was elected, up to two years of that partial term shall not be counted toward this total tenure.

Section 3.    Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, but shall not serve for more than a cumulative total of 20 years.

AMENDMENT XXXII
Limitations on the Congress

Section 1.    Neither House of Congress shall make any rule or provision that allows for other than a majority vote on legislation, resolutions, rules of order, Executive appointments, proceedings, or parliamentary procedures, except as ordered by this Constitution.

Section 2.    Members of Congress shall make no provision in, or attached to, any act or bill that appropriates funds to any individual or organization within their own Congressional District or State. 

Section 3.    The House and Senate shall make no Laws that exempt its individual members or employees from application of the provisions of any and all such laws.

Section 4.    For the duration of twelve years after leaving elective Office, no Senator or Representative, nor any of their staff members, shall be allowed to accept any compensation from, or advocate with office holders on behalf of, any organization, association, corporation, union or other entity that seeks to influence any legislation or the legislative process.

    Any former member of Congress found to be in violation of this provision shall be ineligible to seek any elective or appointive governmental office in the future.

Section 5.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

AMENDMENT XXXIII
Citizen Participation

Section 1.    No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published quarterly and made available in formats readily accessible by the citizenry. 

Section 2.    All Federal funds appropriated, contracted, granted, or loaned to any agency, organization, corporate entity, contractor, State or Country shall be audited annually by commissions of private citizens who are not political office-holders. The resultant accounting report to the Congress shall include recommendations for or against continued funding.

Section 3.    Appropriate numbers of non-governmental office-holding Citizens shall be appointed jointly by Congress and the President to every office of Inspector General for the purpose of advising and assisting that Officer in the conduct of inspections, evaluations, and audits of the operations of designated governmental departments, agencies and offices.

Section 4.    Similar groups of citizens shall be jointly appointed by Congress and the President as permanent Advisory Councils to each department, agency, and office of government, for the purpose of advising on all aspects of the operation of those entities.  Such advice shall be regularly solicited and given due consideration by all heads of said government agencies.  In addition, each Council shall make an annual report of their activities and concerns to the Congress and the President.  Advisory Council Members may serve for no longer than six years.

Section 5.     Enumeration and drawing of Congressional districts shall be undertaken by Commissions composed of citizens currently holding neither elective nor appointive office; to be elected as State law shall direct, except that no Commissioner may serve more than two terms.  

Section 6.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

CHOICES

In this election year of 2012, the national electorate will have choices before it that will probably determine this country’s future direction for years to come.  So what are some of the choices that we will be making when we vote either for the President or for the Republican nominee?  Perhaps the number one choice for many Americans needs little explanation or comment.

Do I want a government that will actually establish needed jobs, or, do I want a government that believes only in supporting and funding rich “job creators” through tax loopholes and favoritism?
President Obama has tried in many ways to provide opportunities for the underemployed and the jobless (Jobs bill, infrastructure reform, auto industry bail-out, Stimulus bill), but he has been thwarted by Republicans at every turn. 
Republicans basically do not believe in government-created jobs (or even the saving of jobs); they would rather use government to tilt the playing field in the direction of multinational corporations hoping such measures will trickle down to help the larger economy.   Their ideology and tax loopholes for the rich have created the largest gap in prosperity between the 1-2% richest of us and the other 98-99% who have seen little if any increased prosperity.  The choice is a stark one.
 

Do I want government taking a measured approach to the deficit (cutting overspending and increasing tax revenues) or do I want a one-sided approach that further tilts the playing field in the direction of the richest 1%?
President Obama and the Democrats have consistently proposed targeted cuts in government spending, and even in the bloated bureaucracy, while also calling for fair and reasonable tax rates for all Americans, including the rich. 
Republicans have consistently balked when any tax rate increase is proposed for the richest 1% on the grounds that they are the job-creators (a fantasy proven false more than once by independent groups).  Their proposals of draconian cuts to “discretionary” programs (social programs intended to help the middle class and the poor), and their ill-advised suggestions for excising whole departments in the federal government, are constant reminders of their inability to plan carefully to meet the very complicated problems left behind by the Bush administration.  Republicans have yet to accept any of the President’s proposals for cutting the deficit, increasing revenues, and reforming government.  They not only reject his budgets, but have also rejected his call for a re-instatement of an Executive power that would allow him to merge certain departments and duplicative functions.  A do-nothing House under Republican control, and a Democratic Senate blocked by a super-majority vote rule, have been able to block a balanced approach to the economy and the question of raising revenues.  More importantly, a Republican-controlled House and Senate, with a Republican President, would bring an avalanche of measures designed to favor the richest 1-2%.

A reminder: Mitt Romney wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest among us.  He also wants to cut the tax rate for corporations from 35% to 25%.  He says he wants a 20% reduction in all marginal tax rates (tax brackets) across the board (which again favors those in higher brackets).  He will also seek lower tax rates for investment income, will seek to eliminate taxation on capital gains, dividends and interest (who will that benefit the most?), and will eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax.  Then, on top of all that, he will work to eliminate the estate tax.   Do we need to ask what this means for revenue generation?  David Frum of CNN answers for us:  “won’t such a big tax cut, piled atop the previous commitment to renew the Bush tax cuts when they expire in 2013, greatly add to the deficit?  How will the federal budget be balanced?  (Romney’s Detroit speech) suggests that the gap will be closed with big cuts to programs for the poor, such as food stamps, housing subsidies, and job training.”

The cat is out of the bag.  Romney has aligned himself with the GOP base, particularly as represented by the Tea Party members in the Congress.  Eric Cantor’s endorsement of Mitt Romney has sealed the connection.  Romney has fully eliminated any policy difference he may have had with the radical right congressional wing.  He will now be their lackey in piling the burden of deficit reduction on the poor, the disabled and the young, as well as on the broad middle class.   Romney is now the official candidate of the rich and the Right.  If you vote for Romney for whom and for what are you really voting?

Do I want government assuming some control over health care and insurance provisions (as it does with Medicare and the VA) or do I want private insurance companies dictating insurance provisions and medical policies?
President Obama and the Democrats passed the first comprehensive health reform Act since LBJ’s administration.  It left in place our private health insurance system, but  proposed reforms that will change health care delivery and health care coverage for most Americans.  In spite of Republican threats and attempts to repeal that Act, the positive results are beginning to reveal themselves, e.g. more children being protected, at least 2.3 million young people under age 26 able to stay on their parents’ insurance, raising of Medicare reimbursement rates paid to doctors, no more private insurance companies limiting coverage because of pre-existing or long-term conditions.  These are just a few of its many positive aspects that have received favorable comments from the CBO. (See my Blog for December 3, 2011).  One of the provisions rarely discussed is the establishment of state-based Affordable Insurance Exchanges which will “help ensure that every American can access high-quality, affordable health insurance coverage beginning in 2014.  These competitive marketplaces will provide millions of Americans and small businesses with ‘one-stop shopping‘ for affordable coverage in every State.” (FY 2013 Fiscal Year Budget).  HHS has been providing grants to nearly all States to plan for the establishment of these Exchanges.

Republicans have no health plans to offer other than those that would diminish or destroy Medicare and the VA system of care, and repeal the Affordable Care Act.  For instance, Romney has laid out a plan for dismantling “Obamacare,” and claims that, on his first day in office, he will issue an Executive Order paving the way for all 50 states to claim waivers from “Obamacare.” 

Do I want a government that is run for and by millionaires or do I want a government run for and by the other 99% of us? 
Although this may not come first in our list of choices, it is perhaps the question that gets at the heart of our current problems.  As long as millionaires and billionaires (including mega-rich corporations) have the power to access the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in such a measure as to be able to tilt the activities of governing in whatever way will be to their benefit, we will not have a representative democracy, but a plutocracy (rule by the rich) or even an oligarchy (governance by a small elite). 
The current Republican primary battles presage the terrible results of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  We now have a few billionaires giving to Super PACs which are able to control and win elections for their candidates by the sheer volume of ads and propaganda they can produce. One billionaire can even keep one candidate in the running long after his (or her) star has dimmed on the national stage.  This is an abomination in a representative democracy.  Yet, the Republican Party has said or done nothing to overturn this ascent into the depths of a non-representative oligarchy.  So, you have a choice: vote with Democrats to overturn Citizens United and to reform our election process, or, vote with Republicans who have no intention of overturning that same decision because for them it is capital cronyism at its very best.
(Yes, I realize that President Obama has now encouraged moneyed sources to support a Super-Pac, but he is the only candidate for President who advocates a repeal of Citizens United and more basic reforms of our electoral system.  Republicans will have no inclination for such reform).

Do I want a government that is opposed to organized labor, and collective bargaining, or a government that supports labor and business as partners?
Need we do more than look at Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, etc.?  Republican governors have provided a spectacle of destruction of labor rights akin to the attitudes of countries like China, Russia, Iran and Syria.  Not only have they promoted legislation destructive of bargaining rights, of protection of children, and protection of workers in dangerous occupations, they have passed legislation that affects rights to unionize.  Anti-union demagoguery is not just bad for fair play, it is destructive of the middle class that was partly built in this country because unions built a system of  benefits that enabled people to become part of the American Dream of home ownership, car ownership, and higher education for their children, and expanded opportunities for recreation and leisure, and even of investment that had not been an integral part of  worker’s lives in the past.  A new partnership between business and labor is a key to being competitive, and the Republican Party is devoid of such vision.

Do I want a government that favors the development of new sources of energy or a government that favors large subsidies for Big Oil companies, offshore drilling, hydro-fracking, and drilling for oil and natural gas on government lands?
President Obama’s Budget for FY2013 continues his administration’s commitment to the development of diverse and clean sources of energy.  It eliminates unwarranted tax breaks for big oil companies, extends incentives to spur investment in clean energy manufacturing, and for renewable energy production.  His Budget also invests in R&D to boost clean energy technologies.  In addition, such investments will: help reach goals for increasing electricity from clean energy sources; encourage use of natural gas in the transportation sector; reduce oil imports by one-third by 2025; and, position the U.S. to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

In contrast, Mitt Romney’s Plan puts almost all it’s emphasis on domestic oil and coal production increase which solves nothing.  He states up-front:  “We must vigorously embrace and develop all of our domestic energy sources.”  He even says that the environmental concerns -- concern over global warming -- of the Obama administration in regard to the Keystone pipeline is undercut by whether the US or China will receive that oil from Canada.  His first step would be to facilitate “rapid progress” in development of domestic reserves of oil and natural gas, and further investment in nuclear power.  He would “fast-track” all permits and approvals for such exploration and development.  He wants to “overhaul” the Clean Air, Clean Water and other environmental laws to the advantage of the energy industry.  He wants to allow several types of nuclear reactors to be built in spite of the fact that many of these designs are inadequate and could lead us to disasters as occurred in Japan.  And finally, he wants to encourage “hydraulic fracturing” to extract natural gas from shale deposits.  And he says clearly:  “In a Romney administration, the EPA would not pursue overly aggressive interventions designed to discourage fracking…the environmental impact of fracking should be…evaluated in comparison to the impact of utilizing the fuels that natural gas displaces, including coal.”  In other words, the impact of fracking on people’s lives and their environment is not an important part of the equation. 

In the end, I believe Barack Obama has already increased the breadth of our choices in many ways, as described above, and at other points on this Blog.  We need to give this President a second term so that he can continue his mission of balance, reform, restructuring, investment, and greater opportunity for all, not for just an elite few.