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Charter 99 -In Memoriam: Václav Havel. – A Three Line Occupy Manifesto

By: theicefish Monday December 19, 2011 3:39 am

Václav Havel passed away today. In December 1976, he and others signed the “Charter 77”, a demand for a civil society in Czechoslovakia. He spent some years in jail, as did others, as a result. The communists knew that words can be the most powerful blow against an oppressor. Twelve years later the “Velvet Revolution” began and the oppressors were driven from power and into disgrace. Václav Havel, a writer and poet, then became the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia since the fall of Iron Curtain.

A week ago a draft “Three Line Occupy Manifesto” was published here,  and some thoughtful comments were added by other FDL readers. Thank you. A revised version follows with some additons added [in brackets] as a result of those comments.

This “Charter 99″ Occupy Manifesto will never be, nor should it be, everything for everybody. It is meant to be a straight forward set of demands to be presented to politicians to level the playing field between the 1%’ers and the 99%’ers, by ending institutionalized corruption in American politics.

Many will say this is unrealistic and can not be done, as the 1%’ers have the politicians in their pockets, control of the mainstream media, and have the ability to field armies of well paid mercenary lobbyists to bid their will in Washington.

The 1% does have that power, but they can not silence us. The power of the 1%’ers is nothing compared to that of the police states that existed in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The advocates of a civil society in Eastern Europe braved the fear of poverty, imprisonment or even death to speak out and win. We have no excuse for remaining silent.

Reach out to the politicians. Politely but clearly, forcefully, and when needed, loudly.

Let them know that we have principals that transcend the narrow self interest of the 1%’ers. Let them know that America is about the 99%, not the 1%. Let them know that their job is about the 99%, not the 1%, and that their job is on the line if they fail the 99%.

We must raise our voices until we can not be ignored.

A revised “Occupy Manifesto” follows; From now on let’s call it the “Occupy Charter 99”.

(The following is revised from the “Three Line Occupy Manifesto” based on FDL reader comments. FDL, Monday December 12, 2011 12:37 AM)

[Occupy Charter 99]

It is easy for a manifesto to become a laundry list of demands, as there is so much to complain about these days. Each additional item reduces the chance of obtaining consensus. What follows is a try at a “short list” that might work. Fix it, rewrite it, whatever, but a movement without a written agenda will either fade away or be co-opted.

[Much of this is about “getting the money out of politics”, but money is needed to run an election, and to give a way of making the freedom of speech real. (This blog is hosted on a server that costs money.) It is the connection between the money and government decision making that needs to be disconnected. Small anonymous donations can be allowed. The fear of the rich self-funding a campaign is real, but just look at the past elections in California, the wealthy trying to buy their way to the Governorship and a Senate Seat failed miserably. At the end of the day the people get the government they deserve and we will always have to be vigilant.]

Yes, many of us worry about war or peace, the environment, social justice; the list is endless but each additional concern divides us. We need to focus on the keystone problem only, the institutionalized corruption that give the top 1% of earners and large corporations 99% of the voice in our society. If we can fix this we will be able to address the other legitimate concerns that we have. [This manifesto is not meant to be perfect prescription, it is only meant to give the 99% a fighting chance against the 1%, but do not underestimate the power of many voices calling for justice in unison.]

[Let’s keep the list short and focused on the critical few items needed to level the playing field; later we can try to hit the home runs.]

The List:

1. End the institutionalized corruption in government

2. End the political power of corporations

3. Limit the political power of the 1% to 1%

Yes, that’s it. Three little statements. Some details on how it might work follow.

1. End the institutionalized corruption in government

The Freedom of Speech can not be compromised, and lobbying is a form of speech, often serving the public good. [In any case, controls on donations run into court challenges.] The control on lobbyists must come from controls on government officials and employees, not on the lobbyists [to avoid the constitutional issues]. Politicians are government employees and their freedom of association can be limited as a condition of employment. [It is true that not all bribery takes the form of monetary compensation, but if we can stop the money we will have a chance of establishing a level playing field and start to deal with other forms of unethical pressure used to influence government.]

It must be a felony for any elected official, judge or government employee to meet in private with a lobbyist or their agents under any circumstances. Sometimes lobbyists are useful experts, let them explain their points of view in public to all of us instead of in closed rooms with politicians. [This will apply to all lobbyists, not just those in the pay of the 1%]

It must be a felony for any elected official, judge or government employee to fail to fully recuse themselves from any discussions or votes where they, a family member, or a business associate, has an appearance of a conflict of interest, or would benefit financially from the outcome of a decision under consideration. Any giver of gifts or campaign donations to a politician [of more that $100 in a year] will be defined as a business associate for life. Travel, food, cigars, drinks, bundling, facilitating, whatever, all count as donations.

It will be said that these rules would prevent most politicians from continuing in office. That is correct.

2. End the power of corporations

Corporations exist as the result of legislation based on the belief that they provide a benefit to society, and legislation can be used to limit their power and rights. If the Courts don’t understand this then Congress will ban the existence of corporations, or tax them into oblivion. There are other ways to do business without them.

The Bill of Rights does not apply to corporations. They have no freedom of speech, no right to remain silent, nothing. If the Courts don’t like it, then corporations cease to exist.

The executives, directors and major stock holders of corporations, and their beneficiaries, will bear unlimited personal liability for a corporation’s damage to the environment, public health or the economy. The corporation can and must protect its owners and managers from the damages resulting from simple bad business decisions or bad luck, but not from acts of greed, or from situations where they knew or should have known about the risks to others.

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1816

3. End the disproportionate power of the rich

It is supposed to be one person one vote, not one dollar one vote.

All income; salary, interest, dividends, inheritances and short term capital gains, whatever, gets taxed at the same progressive rate necessary to balance the Federal budget now. Long term (>5 Years) investments that create jobs in America might be eligible for a lower rate.

Lawyers, accounts and financial advisors that fail to report attempts to avoid taxes by the rich will be considered their co-conspirators in tax evasion.

There can be no tax deductions of any kind for the rich. Donations are nice, but the 99% should not have to subsidize the public relations campaigns of the 1%.

The pro-rich tax policies have created an unreasonable Federal Debt, a wealth tax will be used to eliminate the debt held by the public [“Wealth” means total assets, as opposed to “income”, which is what was earned in a given year.]

It’s just 3 simple easy to remember points.

 

A Three Line Occupy Manifesto

By: theicefish Monday December 12, 2011 12:37 am

It is easy for a manifesto to become a laundry list of demands, as there is so much to complain about these days. Each additional item reduces the chance of obtaining consensus. What follows is a try at a “short list” that might work. Fix it, rewrite it, whatever, but a movement without a written agenda will either fade away or be co-opted.

Yes, many of us worry about war or peace, the environment, social justice; the list is endless but each additional concern divides us. We need to focus on the keystone problem only, the institutionalized corruption that give the top 1% of earners and large corporations 99% of the voice in our society. If we can fix this we will be able to address the other legitimate concerns that we have.

The List:

1. End the institutionalized corruption in government

2. End the political power of corporations

3. Limit the political power of the 1% to 1%

Yes, that’s it. Three little statements. Some details on how it might work follow.

1. End the institutionalized corruption in government

The Freedom of Speech can not be compromised, and lobbying is a form of speech, often serving the public good. The control on lobbyists must come from controls on government officials and employees, not on the lobbyists. Politicians are government employees and their freedom of association can be limited as a condition of employment.

It must be a felony for any elected official, judge or government employee to meet in private with a lobbyist or their agents under any circumstances. Sometimes lobbyists are useful experts, let them explain their points of view in public to all of us instead of in closed rooms with politicians.

It must be a felony for any elected official, judge or government employee to fail to fully recuse themselves from any discussions or votes where they, a family member, or a business associate, has an appearance of a conflict of interest, or would benefit financially from the outcome of a decision under consideration. Any giver of gifts or campaign donations to a politician will be defined as a business associate for life. Travel, food, cigars, drinks, bundling, facilitating, whatever, all count as donations.

It will be said that these rules would prevent most politicians from continuing in office. That is correct.

2. End the power of corporations

Corporations exist as the result of legislation based on the belief that they provide a benefit to society, and legislation can be used to limit their power and rights. If the Courts don’t understand this then Congress will ban the existence of corporations, or tax them into oblivion. There are other ways to do business without them.

The Bill of Rights does not apply to corporations. They have no freedom of speech, no right to remain silent, nothing. If the Courts don’t like it, then corporations cease to exist.

The executives, directors and major stock holders of corporations, and their beneficiaries, will bear unlimited personal liability for a corporation’s damage to the environment, public health or the economy. The corporation can and must protect its owners and managers from the damages resulting from simple bad business decisions or bad luck, but not from acts of greed, or from situations where they knew or should have known about the risks to others.

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” — Thomas Jefferson, 1816

3. End the disproportionate power of the rich

It is supposed to be one person one vote, not one dollar one vote.

All income; salary, interest, dividends, inheritances and short term capital gains, whatever, gets taxed at the same progressive rate necessary to balance the Federal budget now. Long term (>5 Years) investments that create jobs in America might be eligible for a lower rate.

Lawyers, accounts and financial advisors that fail to report attempts to avoid taxes by the rich will be considered their co-conspirators in tax evasion.

There can be no tax deductions of any kind for the rich. Donations are nice, but the 99% should not have to subsidize the public relations campaigns of the 1%.

The pro-rich tax policies have created an unreasonable Federal Debt, a wealth tax will be used to eliminate the debt held by the public.

It’s just 3 simple easy to remember points.

Japan Starts to Understand the True Cost of Nuclear Power, Cabinet Recommends Cutting Reactors

By: theicefish Sunday July 31, 2011 9:14 pm

The respected Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, headlines today (7/31/11) in its English language version an article by Shinichi Sekine,

Cabinet recommends cutting nuclear reactors ,

“The Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan presented on July 29 an interim report on new energy policies. The basic thrust of the policies is that Japan will “decrease its number of nuclear reactors.”…..

“We are going to create a society in which we can meet energy needs without nuclear power,” [Prime Minister] Kan said at a news conference July 13 in response to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Of course vested interests howled in protest, claiming that it is not realistic to eliminate nuclear power, but the people of Japan see things differently.

“However, support for a nuclear-free society is spreading among the general public. A recent Asahi Shimbun opinion poll showed that 77 percent support a nuclear-free society.”

The Wall Street Journal ran a great article on Friday,

“Japan Snaps Back With Less Power – Economy Survives Reactor Shutdowns, and Tokyo Rethinks Nuclear Policy (7/29/11)

TOKYO—When the March 11 tsunami knocked out more than half of the nuclear power plants serving the Tokyo area, it set off one of the biggest unplanned experiments in a modern society: Could a metropolis of 30 million people get by after losing about a fifth of its power supply?

After a steaming July in Japan filled with 90-degree-plus days, the preliminary answer is in, and it is yes. Not only has Tokyo Electric Power Co. kept the lights on all summer, it has so much extra capacity on most days that it could power New York City, too.”

Even the corporate elite was trying to avoid a confrontation with this ground swell of public opinion

“”Over the mid- to long-term, it is desirable to move toward shrinking nuclear power by phasing out aging reactors and promoting renewable energy,” said a statement by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives after its summer meeting in July.”

Energy conservation is in full swing. Load leveling is being done on a massive scale, with factories maximizing production at off hours. Even the famous Japanese corporate dress code has been changed for warmer offices.

Clearly Japan has learned a lesson in the economics of nuclear power. Cleaning this up is going to be far more expensive than what they planned for when they decided nuclear power was cheap.

Don’t jump to any conclusions and think that the Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal has realized that Green and Clean means saving big money. The same day they carried an opinion piece from a writer based at both the WSJ and a major Washington right wing propaganda bureau, the American Enterprise Institute, entitled

“Powering Down Japan -Naoto Kan’s dangerous gamble on cutting off 30% of the electric supply with a nuke shutdown.”

The right wingers love to call the rational cost benefit analysis of nuclear power “radical” if it includes the additional cost to society of accidents, health effects, waste disposal, and of course the nightmare of nuclear proliferation. There is nothing “radical” about doing the math right. The right wingers are the radicals here, claiming that we can engineer and build perfect systems, something that we should have learned about from the Tower of Babel or the Titanic.

Let the industry funded hacks talk all they want about “Safe Guards” and “Redundant Safety Systems” but if you can not handle the consequences of something blowing up and burning down to the ground, don’t build it, because no matter how well we design and build things, they will never be more perfect than the people building them.

(A somewhat longer version is cross posted at icefishroad.com )

A Single Payer Healthcare System Might Make Us More Like Puerto Ricans

By: theicefish Saturday July 23, 2011 6:29 pm

Why do Puerto Ricans live longer that we do here in the 50 United States? Just perhaps it is because they have a better healthcare system than we do. The US trails 35 other countries or territories in life expectancy, including Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Martinique, and Guadeloupe (we are in a tie with Cuba). The “For-Profit” healthcare industry advocates like to blame America’s low life expectancy on “demographic factors” such as race and “pockets of poverty”. Sometimes they also blame the lavish unaffordable excesses of European styled socialized medicine.

Ethnic demographics do affect life expectancy statistics and we are an ethnically diverse nation, but there is nothing unique about that. Many other countries have any one of our ethnic groups as a larger proportion of their population than we do and still do much better in terms of life expectancy. Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Cuba are very ethnically diverse and do better. Martinique and Guadeloupe are less diverse with a clear Afro-Caribbean majority, and they do better. You can’t blame America’s poorer life expectancy on our diverse ethnicity.

What about “Pockets of Poverty”? The US per capita income is twice that of Puerto Rico, more than 5 times that of Costa Rica and almost 10 times that of Cuba, and they do better. Their “pockets of poverty” have to be worse than ours. You can’t blame America’s poorer life expectancy on our “pockets of poverty”.

What about the lavish budgets that socialized medicine healthcare systems have? They actually spend much much less on health care than we do. The US leads the world in healthcare expenses per person, typically by a factor of 2 or more compared to even the high end European countries like Germany,  and dramatically more than the poorer Caribbean examples above. You can’t blame America’s poorer life expectancy on the large size of foreign healthcare budgets.

If life expectancy is clearly not just about race or income or healthcare budgets, than why does the US rank only #36 in terms of life expectancy?

The US low life expectancy is first of all a result of our corrupt for-profit healthcare system. Our system is fundamentally corrupt because we allow doctors, just like our politicians, to work in an environment where “conflicts of interest” are not only tolerated, but they are a fundamental part of the system. The life and death decisions that doctors are being entrusted to make on our behalf are tainted by the motive for personal profit, just like politicians. What we have accepted as business as usual here at home is criminal in many, if not most, other civilized countries. The New York Times reported:

U.S. Inquiry of Drug Makers Is Widened

“At least a dozen major drug and device makers are under investigation by federal prosecutors and securities regulators in a broadening bribery inquiry into whether the companies made illegal payments to doctors and health officials in foreign countries.

…In the United States, companies routinely hire doctors as consultants to market drugs and devices to their colleagues and other health professionals at medical conventions and small gatherings. Such consulting arrangements are legal in the United States as long as the companies do not pay doctors directly to write prescriptions for their products.

But in much of the rest of the world, doctors are government employees. And even consulting arrangements that would be considered routine in the United States might violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, particularly if the payments are outsize or the arrangements are not disclosed to the governments.“

Imagine the shock on the faces of the American executives when they found out that creating a conflict of interest for a doctor in other counties is illegal, unlike here at home.

It is not just about conflicts of interest that are driven by bribe like payments. It is inherent in the fee for service model that we rely on. We have relied on this system for so long that we have forgotten that simple fact of human nature; most people tend to act in our own best interest, devil be dammed.

Many of our doctors order unnecessary CAT scans, even though each has a radiation exposure of 350 chest standard X-Rays.

Some are installing unneeded cardiac stents even though it is often unnecessary and it involves a somewhat risky Roto Rooter like procedure.

It is common to take money from drug manufacturers who then do their best to track individual doctors prescribing habits by buying your healthcare records from your pharmacist so that they can target “under performing” doctors, a tactic recently approved of by the Supreme “Open for Business” Court.

Some doctors are even now owning laboratories and imaging tools, or even hospitals, and some of them seem to specialize in driving up costs as high as possible.

Between most doctors inherent conflict of interest, and the ruthless profit motive of many insurance companies and hospitals, most decisions made today in healthcare are tainted. Forget Marcus Welby, he’s history. Whenever a physician makes a decision that is affecting income it is a conflict of interest. In the typcial private sector, an employee that makes a decision that is tainted by a personal conflict of interest gets fired.

Setting up a national health plan modeled on the VA hospital system, or a single payer plan like “Medicare for all” could all help to the extent that it puts doctors on salary, if it also prevents them from having a financial interest in their treatment decisions. In theory hybrid systems with a strong public insurance option might help but it would be critical to eliminate the conflicts of interest.

We are dying younger that we need to because our doctors and over priced healthcare system are corrupt. We need to take the profit out of the decision making.

A longer (1500 word) version is cross posted at icefishroad.com

On Alcoholism and the Republican Balanced Budget Amendment

By: theicefish Friday July 15, 2011 10:34 am

Few if any competent economists endorse the idea of a mandatory balanced budget every year. That’s because budget deficits are a lot like alcohol. In moderation they are certainly pleasant, and quite possibly healthy. But we have a different situation today, because as for alcohol, the only treatment for a history of uncontrolled abuse is strict abstinence, and if you look at the borrow and spend Republicans you can understand why they feel the need to do something extreme about the budget. After our Post Reagan budget disaster, Clinton demanded that “Pay-Go” be adhered to with discipline. (Under Pay-Go, any spending increases or tax cuts have to be balanced by matching spending decreases or tax increases somewhere else in the budget.) This was a key to Clinton balancing the budget for his last 4 years in office. Bush never once balanced the budget and had to let Pay-Go die in 2002 in order to make his tax cuts for the rich work. Democrats can deficit spend properly and safely. Republicans have an unequivocal history of borrowing abuse, driven by a demonic need to cut taxes for the rich and to use our army to subsidize defense contractors and to hunt for oil abroad.

Abusers deny that they are doing “it”. If forced to confront it, they claim it is necessary, that they have to do it to survive. For the alcoholics the excuse might be a bad home life or job, for the Republicans the excuse is the need to have a military that is bigger than the rest of the world combined, a desire to destroy the social safety net, and a return to the Jim Crow style “States Rights”. Now they are pretending to try to stop the behavior that they can’t handle responsibly, by trying to make everyone else stop it, while leaving themselves a loop hole to carry on.

So now the extremists are sort of acknowledging that after the last budget busting binge of tax cuts for the super rich it is hopeless for them to stick to moderation, althought they still do not admit they were in the wrong. Senator Hatch has introduced what is nick-named the “Balanced Budget Amendment” to the Constitution. It has 47 Republican co-sponsors in the Senate. It is actually just a fig leaf for them to attack the social safety net, as it contains an exception for when,

“….the United States is  engaged in military conflict which causes an imminent and serious military threat to national security….”

As if that will never happen…. It also requires 2/3 majorities in both houses for any tax increases, so that there can never be a correction to the excessive Reagan-Bush tax cuts for the rich. What it will do is limit the size of Government to 20% of the GDP, so that as our population ages the elders don’t get the Social Security checks that they have paying for all their lives.

A real balanced budget amendment might be a good idea given our history of abusing tax cuts for the rich, but with exceptions for increasing social services that automatically trigger higher taxes on the rich. It might force us to pay for our wars as we fight them, which would go far in making us think twice about the role of the military in our society. In the worst case, at least during the next election, Democrats can claim to have supported a “real” balanced budget amendment.

Why the FDL Petition for the Social Safety Net is Not the Best Idea

By: theicefish Sunday July 10, 2011 9:00 pm

The FDL petition to “Pledge to Protect the Social Safety Net” is a good idea, but its not the best idea. The FDL petition is a good example for looking at the contrast between a successful right wing tactic and those of the centrists and progressives. Today the conversation in America about the Federal budget is centered only on cuts to social services with taxing the rich “off the table”. The extremists have successfully created a sacred cow and re-structured the political vocabulary. We could balance the budget on the backs of the rich, if we had the political will power to do it. Don’t believe them when they say “there isn’t enough money out there”.

This is in large part because of the brilliance of the Grover Norquist “No Tax Pledge” and it serves as a contrast to the FDL pledge. There are three major differences. First the Norquist pledge has a clear mechanism for deciding who is obeying and who is violating the pledge (Norquist decides). Second, the pledge is very specific and unambiguous. The FDL pledge is vague as “Social Safety Net” means different things to different people. Third, and possibly most important, the sanctions for violating the pledges are structured differently. The FDL pledge to not vote for a “violator” is an example of a distant and uncertain threat. The violator has the potential for both risk denial and damage control. In the worst case they lose the votes of the people who signed the pledge. That not such a big deal for them, they can measure it and adjust their campaign budgets and strategy accordingly to compensate. In contrast, the Norquist “No Tax Pledge”, which has been signed by all but a handful of Republican Congresspeople, is based on fundamentally different political game theory. If the Congressperson reneges on that pledge, in the next primary or general election their opponent can attack them as being a liar regardless of his/er own position on the matter.

In other words, by getting politicians to sign a pledge, the dirty work of enforcement gets out sourced to the politicians natural enemy, who already has a motive to do serious damage. By us signing a pledge to not vote for a politicians the outcome of a violation is hard to predict and at worst minor.

Maybe the pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare posted a couple of weeks ago here  was a good idea and we should try sending it to Congresspeople, maybe someone else can do something better. Clearly, the structure of the Norquist anti-tax pledge is effective at making politicians afraid. Let’s learn from the extreme right wingers. They are winning not only because they have more money, but because they also have better tactics.

Politico Reports on Fox’s New Standards of Depravity

By: theicefish Thursday July 7, 2011 11:44 pm

In England people very well may go to jail for the behavior of a Murdoch owned news outlet but I care more about what is happening here. The Murdoch owned Fox works to mobilize right wing fanatics and Tea Party Astroturfers to undermine our political process and once common sense of decency.

In case you missed it, Rupert Murdoch’s news empire, which in the US also includes, among others, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, also owns a large number of tabloids globally, including Britain’s most widely circulated newspaper, the 168 year old “The News of the World”, which Murdoch has owned since 1969 has set a new standard of depraved behavior, even for England. According to the New York Times,

“….that the paper hacked into the phones of a 13-year-old murder victim, Milly Dowler, the families of slain soldiers and victims of the 2005 subway bombings.. “

Not only did they hack the murder victim’s phone, they deleted messages leading the police and family to assume that she was alive at the time, interfering with the police efforts to find her.

OK, the Brits have their problems, but look at what Murdoch is doing here at home.

Politico just today reported that Fox News is attacking “Media Matters for America”

“In the past 10 days, Fox has run more than 30 segments calling for the nonprofit group to be stripped of its tax-exempt status. Its Fox Nation website has even provided a link to pre-completed complaint forms against Media Matters to send to the Internal Revenue Service.”

Just to set the record straight, Fox’s parent organization gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association in 2010 and the President of Fox News (Roger Ailes) was a media consultant to Nixon, Reagan, H. W. Bush and Giuliani. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich are also connected to Fox News, and two Bush II White House Press Secretaries (Tony Snow and Dana Perino) were connected to Fox at various times. It certainly looks like a revolving door between Fox News and the Republican Party.

Check out the following MSNBC clip, the former Bush II White House Press Secretary  explained in plain English how they use Fox as a tool to get the word out, and how Fox goes along with it. Watch as MSNBC’s Hardball host Chris Matthews asks the former White House Press Secretary (Scott McClellan) if FOX television gets talking points from the Bush II White House to help it get the White House message out. McClellan states that,

“Certainly there were commentators and other, pundits at FOX News, that were useful to the White House…”

In America, we have laws against the government using propaganda, but neither Bush II nor Fox seemed to care, just like the Murdoch tabloid in England didn’t seem to care about the law.

Organizations usually take there cues from the Boss, and the Murdoch media empire is so vast and powerful that the politicians are afraid to cross him.

Fourth Of July Notes On Democracy; Wouldn’t It Be An Experiment Worth Trying?

By: theicefish Monday July 4, 2011 8:56 pm

It great to see all the ideas bouncing around cyberspace today about the state of our Union. Many of them have to do with Freedom, others about Democracy. Let’s get some of the ground rules straight. First of all the US is not a democracy; we are a republic, fortunately still with many democratic characteristics. We do not have direct election of a president (remember that Gore won the popular vote over Bush).

The Senate has nothing to do with democracy. Wyoming has less than 600, 000 residents, and two Senators, just like California with 37 million residents. A resident of Wyoming has 60 times the voice in the Senate than someone in California. That is not democratic. This is not just a theoretical matter; small groups of concerned citizens from a small state have a reasonable chance of getting face time with their Senator, but if you come from a big state you can only get that kind of access by using paid lobbyists. To make matters worse, 41 out of 100 Senators can block a bill from moving forward. Our 20 smallest states together have less than 10% of our population, and they have 40 Senators.. Furthermore, a lot of our small states tend to vote as a block because of their common interests in mining and agriculture.

This is a weird situation of micro-states being able to drive the national political agenda that was never intended by our Founding Fathers. In those days they were more or less all small states, with a gigantic Virginia looming aside them. While today states that represent less than 10% of our population can in theory “filibuster” a vote in the Senate, in 1790 the comparable number was 37%. There are some arguments to be made about “States Rights” and “All States are Equal”. These are great intellectual exercises in history, but the Civil War did a major Control-Alt-Delete on those ideas. And what wasn’t settled by Sherman’s March certainly was by the reinterpretation of the Commerce Clause to enable the New Deal Legislation to go forward.

The lack of a proportional representation system is not the result of a conspiracy of the corporations and moneyed interests; it is written into the Consitution, the foundational document of our nation. Even if we tried to change it, you can’t change the Senate (Art. V, “…and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html .

For either the House of Representatives or the Senate, if your political party had 49% of the vote in every election across this land you walk away with zero, nada, nunca.

We still do have the right to free speech, to assembly, to organize, and while these are coming under increasing attack and marginalisation they remain an essential part of any chance for political change.