The politics involved in addressing our multiple challenges is also one of the biggest problems we face. If we had a political system which worked then it would be far easier to deal with our problems. This is not by accident. There are a lot of people who benefit from having a system which is broken, and who would be against the kinds of reforms which would allow us to have a truly functioning democracy. One of these problems is the constitution itself. There is a wing of politics in The U.S. today which tends to enshrine the constitution and bill of rights, and which believes that we need to revert to a strict interpretation of the documents. By channeling the intents of the founding fathers, it is believed, we can return to a form of government and society which will cure our evils. This is sadly mistaken, those documents were incapable of seeing into the future, and seeing how much the world has changed since they written, the documents are badly in need of being updated, either through amendments, or through a new constitutional convention. As a case in point I will take what is another of the problems that has resulted in our having a broken political system, and that is the influence of money. I think this is something that most people can agree on, but controlling this influence is almost impossible due to constitutional constraints. (Some may say the election of 2012 refutes this problem since a large amount of money which was spent to influence races which didn’t achieve its goal, but this ignores the buying of influence in the legislative process), so if we want to have real control over the influence of money on politicians then we need change the language of the constitution to allow that. Until concern for actually solving problems is greater than the concern for pleasing donors then nothing will get solved in a meaningful way.
After all by sheer dollar amounts spent to curry favor and control citizens the U.S. has to rank as the most corrupt nation on Earth. No you may not have to pay off your local building inspector to get your building permit, but look higher up and the dollars spent have to be staggering.
Anytime the government starts a new program, homeland security, the prescription drug benefit, the health care act, multi nationals line up like hogs at a trough, government is not working for you, it is transferring your tax dollars to the pockets of multi nationals, and corporations are not champions of a free markets they are the spoiled children sucking at the teat of the government while shipping U.S. jobs overseas, if they aren’t fattening their wallets with taxpayer dollars they are hiding behind favorable tax schemes and tariffs, either here or imposed upon trade partners. If you are a conservative and you are concerned about the corrupt government that runs up unsustainable debts don’t forget to look at the corrupter, and if you are a liberal hoping to see the government taking action on some social cause remember to look and see who those taxpayer dollars are winding up with.
This is very similar to the conflicting views toward the wealthy in the U.S. The one I find most striking is on the part of some conservatives. On the one hand they like to view the accumulation of wealth as a right that everyone should be able to achieve, people like Bill Gates are the superstars of capitalism. On the other hand they bristle at the wealthy who have become globalists, people with enough pull to be able to “control” world events. Unfortunately they don’t seem to realize that the latter is a natural outcome of the former.
Having massive wealth makes one part of a very exclusive club, and that club tends to look out for its interests, much as the AARP or the NRA does. Now this doesn’t mean that the views within this club are homogenous, for every wealthy Koch brothers, (conservative), there is a wealthy George Soros, (liberal), but the desire to influence policy and the ability to do so come with great wealth. So what people need to realize is that the ability to accrue great wealth might be the manifestation of personal freedom for some, but it also curtails the personal freedom of many. If you don’t like the idea of world government or liberal bias in popular culture you should have an interest in putting a leash on the ability of individuals to amass great wealth. The amount of wealthy people who try to steer policy aren’t the minority, they are the majority.
This having been said one should also be aware of how fallible these people are. I found an interview with the current head of the Bilderberg Group, (a secretive group of wealthy and influential people), to be most amusing. In one part of the interview he spoke about how the group laid the groundwork for the formation of the Euro, then later he mentioned how in one of their most recent meetings a topic of conversation was whether or not the Euro would survive the financial crisis. So in little more than ten years a major currency has been formed and may be flushed, clearly a flaw in planning there. Another example of how inept the powerful can be was the Carter administration. Another group considered to be a global architect of policy is the Trilateral Commission. Now Jimmy Carter was a member of the Trilateral Commission and many people who served in his administration were also members of the Trilateral Commission. The thing is President Carter is considered to have overseen one of the most flawed presidencies of recent memory. Quite apparently the TLC didn’t do a very good job at controlling events through the White House.
So don’t fear the wealthy as much as you may, but realize also that the potential for them to try to do the things you may be afraid of exists because they are wealthy. They do distort elections, they do buy favors from politicians, they do manipulate business policy, and their extraordinary influence must be brought done to size for the sake of personal freedom and liberty.
Why do these things matter? The supreme court of the united states overturned a law which limited campaign contributions and spending by entities such as corporations and labor unions. This was done under the guise of protecting their free speech.
Nevermind that these entities are legally defined groups and aren’t entitled to “rights” other than those granted by the laws which regulate their function, they are not individuals. Re-imposing that standard would just leave actual individuals with means the ability to operate under the right of freedom of speech while influencing the electoral process. There is another more salient point here, and that is how this ruling robs the poor of their freedom of speech.
How? Well the freedom of speech is not absolute, it is relative. What the currently defined standard represents is the equivalent of telling a poor person, “O.k. you can have the freedom of speech as long as when you decide to use it you stand in a wind tunnel with a sock in your mouth”. Because the views of an individual become so drowned out by the sheer volume of other views. Entities or individuals of means are allowed a much larger voice than those of modest means. They may even hire people to essentially speak their voice, so their views appear to be the views of many, when in fact they may be the views of a few. As most people have limited time to listen to viewpoints the potential audience becomes swamped, and the views of those of modest means are lost. The supreme court has therefore not empowered the freedom of speech, it has robbed the freedom of speech from hundreds of millions of people by so turning up the volume of a few.
This is bad on a big picture level, but imagine the disastrous effects on local elections. If you have a large local industry it will be completely able to control local elections to their favor.
What might be the way to rectify this situation? Allow people to extend the availability of their viewpoints through means that are open to everyone. Having a book of your views published by an interested publisher is one way of doing this, having a vanity press print up 100,000 copies of a treatise on your views is not, being interviewed by a news outlet is one way, owning a news outlet and having it promote your views is not. This is a rough idea, and full of potential to be exploited, but it is far better than what is happening now.
Because of the influence of money and the level of corruption throughout our political system the best thing a voter of any persuasion could do at this point is vote for an independent, or even better, third party candidate.
Even though we have alternative candidates run in presidential elections they are usually viewed by a large portion of the electorate as spoilers. This happens when the alternatives are either conservative, Perot or Wallace, or liberal, Anderson or Nader. The electorate gets sold on the idea of voting for a winner. What then occurs is that voters who voted for someone on the basis of their ability to win get both minimized and taken for granted.
Let’s suppose that the electorate were brave enough to encourage independent or third party candidates of both political persuasions to run. It is very possible you could even have someone elected president with a popular vote in the low 30%s. In such a case the elected person would be so weak that they would have to continue to court voters who voted for someone else just to maintain any sort of power. Those voters would have much more influence, even though they voted for someone who lost the election.
Even if only one alternative candidate runs and has a strong showing they can influence the policies of the other parties, some have suggested that the fiscal responsibility of the 1990’s was partly due to the strength of Ross Perot’s campaigns. He made it an issue and then the major parties had to pick up that issue if they hoped to keep support from slipping to him. The power of splinter groups could be larger than might be expected also if they were to win but a few seats in the house. For instance if the Democrats required the cooperation of a handful of Green Party representatives to make a majority then they would be willing to bend more to the Greens. Actually this is what is occurring with Tea Party represntatives.
Democracy is under threat in the United States, from special interests, from the pollution of excess campaign contributions, and from the disaffection fringe voters feel from being marginalized by the process. Having multiple candidates vying for office may make the system messier, and more chaotic, but it would also pull more people into the process making them feel less like giving up, or worse, becoming radicalized.
The power of corporations to affect politics ties into the arguments about corporate taxes. Some people say that taxing corporations amounts to double taxation, another that it hurts business investment. I get these arguments but to me they seem to ignore a fundamental dynamic of how corporations act, they seem to assume that corporate earnings are a sort of benign force in the world economy, that they just sit on a shelf waiting to be put to some beneficial use like dividends or investment in operations. But the economic power of corporations is like the power associated with wealthy individuals, it will be put to political use.
Corporations don’t just do this to extend an ideological agenda they do it because earnings through operations is only part of the way a corporation works, the other is earnings through power, and that the acquisition of power is one of the tactics used by corporations to extend their ability to earn, and it takes money to do that. This is especially true in developing countries. The other day I heard an interview with a gentleman who has written a book on Exxon, in it he made the point that every year the U.S. writes a development check to the country of Chad for 10 million dollars, Exxon writes them a check every year for 700 million dollars. Chad is also a very poor country run by a dictatorship. Whose interests are being valued there?
The acquisition of power also has a big impact on the electoral processes and policy decisions of established countries, as we all know.
So corporate taxation shouldn’t be used as a means of revenue as much as it should be used as a means of weakening the shadow global government of corporate influence. Corporations are meant to function as a creator and disseminator of products of services not as a policy machine that works without public scrutiny. The best way of making sure that doesn’t happen is to remove their ability to buy the power that permits them to work in this way. If we advocate the removal of corporate tax rates we are endorsing a world where corporations can buy whatever power they want, we are saying that we want a global corporate government and may as well quit keeping that fact in the closet.
Also consider that while the higher tax brackets pay the bulk of total federal taxes when state and local taxes are figured in their taxes are lower on a percentage basis, this is because capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than income taxes, the higher you go up the power chain the less that is paid.
These problems certainly contribute to our pathetic voter participation rates. People quit participating when they feel the system doesn’t work for them, this winds up being a downward spiral since it then takes more resources to get these people to vote, where as it takes less to get the people who are benefiting from the system to vote since they see the results of doing so. Now we should call people not voting what it is, a protest vote, these people have given up on the system because they can see the corruption.
We should make every effort to reform of the political system not because things would be better if the views of the disenfranchised were taken into account as much as their not voting is a sign of how challenged our democracy is. Things like restricting the influence of money, making voting easier, and maybe even making voting mandatory would help a lot, but the question becomes would this still be enough to shake the two party system which benefits a narrower group of people. What might be a good idea is to have our system function similar to the Knesset in Israel, where parties are more important than candidates. Any party which made it through a qualifying round with a set minimum of support, similar to the current primary elections, would be able to get represented in the government. So the seats in congress, let’s say, would be divided up amongst the parties on the basis of the percentage of vote they got in the general election, with the majority getting no more than 45% of the seats and the party with the least support getting perhaps no less than 10 seats. This would also remove the importance of personality on who is serving, it would allow parties to pick the most competent people to serve instead of the most charismatic. It would also insure that voters no matter their views would be more likely to feel that they have a voice in government.
So much for the corruption involved in our political system, the corruption we can’t finally get under control without amending the constitution, so let’s take a quick look at the Constitution and The Bill of Rights to get an idea of how much work needs to be done there.
Section 2 Clause 3, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. 2 The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to choose three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.” Are you familiar with the term gerrymandering? Should be, big case in Texas made a lot of news not too long ago. Whoever is in power next can redraw the districts to their liking. So what we have wound up with is a complete hodgepodge of districting lines. Now the problem with this is that it reinforces partisanship in that congressional representatives wind up playing to their party lines rather than trying to pull together a winning coalition our of a diverse group of the electorate. After all if a politician were able to appeal to a diverse group there would be no need of gerrymandering. Another out of date part of this is that there is no upper limit as to how large congressional districts might be. while the minimum threshold is set at 30,000 our current crop of representatives have districts with about 700,000 people in them. This is a roadblock to effective democracy. In theory someone should be able to run for congress simply on the basis of going out and meeting people, but with districts so large it increases the need for fund raising to get ones message out. The size of districts must be mandated so a somewhat smaller maximum size.
Section 4 Clause 2, “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.” Affected by the 20th amendment in this way, “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.” At least once a year? I am not so sure this idea is out of date as it should perhaps have some teeth to the idea that this doesn’t need to be a full time job. In politics we should really have a greater appreciation for the status quo, if what you have works relatively well it shouldn’t have to be tinkered with constantly. reducing how often congress meets could raise the bar as to what they get done when they do meet.
Section 8 Clause 5, “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;” regulate the value thereof? Regulate the value? This is a case where we have chosen to simply ignore what the constitution puts forward, The Fed, that entity which does control the value of the currency isn’t even a part of the government. If this is indeed how we want things the constitution should reflect and define The Fed’s role.
Onto the bill of rights. Two. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Now if we look back at Section 8 Clause 15 where we were talking about the congress, “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;” What we’re saying here is that congress may need to call every farmer, urbanite, or whatever and say, ‘hey grab that shotgun or pistol and come running because the invaders are here, or those nuts rioting on the east side don’t seem to like us’. That will never happen. So let’s say if congress did want this ready made militia, well if they did the argument should not be about arcane points of what makes an assault rifle, it should be about getting shoulder fired surface to air missiles in the “peoples” hands. Needless to say congress isn’t too interested in that because the ready assumption that the “militia” would be friendly to the congress may not be so clear in some parts of this great union. And if you think your thirty ought six is going to protect your property against unreasonable seizure, or whatever, think again, the arms people are permitted to have aren’t protecting anything, not that the dear old paper gives people that right anyway. Wake up folks, the arguments over this issue as presented are so off base it’s crazy, at least insofar as the dear old document is concerned. And please don’t tell me how insurgents show the great power of small arms, insurgents show the power of explosives, and the right to bear arms doesn’t include explosives.
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Number nine. Man try to get your head around that. What determines my other unspoken rights? I want to know, I really do!
O.k. now we haven’t gone anywhere near the abortion issue, or the right of the congress to regulate commerce between the states, which opens up a huge can of worms that allows for so many federal laws. Here is the battleground for many states rights issues. And it’s all up to those courts.
It’s all up to the courts. People like to cry about the activist courts, but it’s not that they don’t want them to be activist, it’s that they want them to be activist in a certain way, remember saying no is still saying something. The thing is the reason the courts come across as so activist is because politicians don’t want to tackle a lot of these issues. It isn’t that laws can’t be crafted which will pass constitutional muster, it’s that it is easier to give lip service to a cause without actually having to own up to the ramifications of that.
So this is why I made such a point of highlighting the deficiencies of our reliance on a 200 plus year old document to guide our political system, economy, and society. We really either need to take a proactive approach to amending the constitution, either that or we need to have a new constitutional convention. Because the point is this, isn’t the right to own a gun, or be protected from nutcases who want guns, isn’t the right to end the life of your unborn child/fetus or the right of that child to exist, isn’t the issue of who determines the value of the dollar, aren’t these things and others issues that should be decided by national consensus? Aren’t these issues important enough that they shouldn’t change by driving over a state line? And aren’t they important enough that our feelings about them should rise above cultural fads? If so then it is high time the citizens of this country took a lesson from the West and told the politicians and the courts what we as a nation believe about these issues. The dear old rag needs some updating, there is a legal process by which to accomplish that, and it deserves some serious consideration