Rewrite the Constitution

I urge the next President to initiate the following politically independent, game-changing, project: The United States 21st Century Constitutional Convention (or “Convention21”). The purpose of this focused major effort would bring the US federal/state/local governmental structure and process into the 21st Century, and replace the original US Constitution while rewriting each and all state constitutions.

The effort would require the best minds, hearts and sensibilities available. A top-notch end result would require at least a decade to produce, major dedicated funding, the best technological tools available, transparency, maximum public input and approval.

Recent years have shown that our federal and state public sector is inadequate to address 21st Century challenges interpreting a US Constitution written in the 18th Century. If we are to function as a responsive and self-governing society to address challenging problems at home and abroad, we must pound out a new document to help guide the journey.

Whether one identifies with a conservative, independent, or progressive political philosophy, Democracy in America is losing. With the prevailing political deadlock, it is almost impossible to amend the Constitution to address even relatively straight-forward challenges such as those presented by recent Supreme Court decisions.

A new US Constitution would distill the best ideas from the American experience over the past 240 years, as well as adopting the best ideas from the 50 states and enlightened countries around the World. It must exceed the high aspirations of the original. At its core, it must inspire personal strength and hope in every American citizen and the rest of our world.

Convention21 general considerations would include:

A. As a first step, a general reformatting of the current document, incorporating existing amendments into the body of the Constitution, and clarifying document terminology.

B. Most importantly, updating/rewriting the Constitution – as well as each state constitution – with substantive changes distilled from extensive research and public input.

C. Finally, confirming the documents through a series of public votes at the national and state levels.

My sample of possible changes related to a new Constitution:

1. Eliminating barriers for all eligible American citizens to vote; eliminating big money and requiring total contribution transparency in all public elections; maximizing political competitiveness and standardizing redistricting at all levels; and defining the rights of individual voter vs. non-individual voter entities in the election process.

2. Installing mechanisms to eliminate legal and political gridlock that prevents federal, state, and local governments from functioning effectively for citizens and among each other.

3. Addressing and expanding a Bill of Rights that applies to all American citizens and not superseded by individual state constitutions.

4. Appointing — not electing — qualified judges at all governmental levels, but affording popular recall opportunities at defined thresholds.

5. Protecting, to the extent possible, the uniqueness of each state while requiring each state to rewrite its own constitution that respects the Bill of Rights. This part of the Convention21 process would also reconcile substantive differences between the rewritten state constitutions and the new US Constitution — an iterative process that would make both the final US Constitution and all the state constitutions stronger and compatible.

6. Revisiting the types of federal, state, and local taxes allowable; setting allowable minimum and maximum percentages of federal funds allowed in state and local budgets, as well as allowable minimum and maximum percentages of state funds allowed in local budgets.

7. Prohibiting unfunded mandates at all governmental levels.

We, as Americans, are wise to heed the warning: “Any self-governing society that gives up on government, gives up on itself.”

Pat V. Powers
Utopia, Texas

Editor Replies: Before progressives proceed with plans to call conventions to rewrite the constitutions of the US and the 50 states, we think progressives should demonstrate that they can marshall the grassroots to overcome the spending of the oligarchs and elect a progressive President and a progressive Congress and democratic majorities in at least three-fourths of state legislatures that will vote for public interests over the corporate lobbyists for at least two straight election cycles — because that could go terribly wrong.

Don’t Diss Prop 13

Like many others who maybe weren’t around California before 1978, Jill Richardson [in “The High Cost of Low Taxes,” 7/1-15/15 TPP] traces our fiscal woes directly to Proposition 13, no zig-zags in between.

Her statement that Prop 13 “effectively froze the tax rate at 1970s levels” is misleading. Prop 13 simply set a cap on the amount of yearly tax increases allowed, for properties that neither change hands nor gain improvements during the current tax year. It also did away with the practice of reassessing entire neighborhoods to the value of the most recently sold property.

Why did we do it? Well — by 1978, runaway tax assessments plus skyrocketing OPEC gasoline prices and other factors had made the burden too heavy to bear. Many lifelong residents were being literally taxed out of their homes, some forced to leave the state altogether.

Jerry Brown was our Guv then, too, soon to leave office. He warned us fair and square that although our budget carried a sizeable surplus, we could expect cuts in services such as libraries, schools and, yes, DMV offices and courthouses. Fees for drivers licenses and other car-related matters would go up. In the end, we the people voted to be able to continue to live here in the homes we’d worked hard to obtain, and put up with the rest. We can vote on our own tax measures at district and county levels as needed. We’ve certainly had our share of miscreants in the Governor’s Mansion since then, but we’ve had our ballots to fight them with and our homes to enjoy. Without Prop 13, they would’ve had even more of our money to throw around.

I’m sorry Ms. Richardson broke a law and had to pay a steep fine and late fee to a state she seems to live in occasionally. Although she tells us the amount ($554), she doesn’t say what she was cited for in the first place. After all, traffic tickets are generally not as “unavoidable” as death and taxes. Should she feel the need again to point on the Golden State, perhaps she would like to explore why the California Lottery hasn’t fulfilled its original promise to help fund our schools. We voted that one in, too.

Betty Crowder
Honeydew, Calif.

Common Ground on Corporate Trade Deal

The President and many conservative members of Congress seem to have found some common ground on trade. Should progressives rejoice or cringe? After all, these are the folks who vowed never to let Obama get anything done. Have the corporate conservatives caved in to the President’s one-world socialist agenda or has the President once again revealed himself as just another corporate Democrat?

It is telling that Republicans overwhelmingly supported Trade Promotion Authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the darling of the multinationals and the bane of progressives. Even some of the most ultra-conservative in both the House and Senate have agreed to give the President fast-track authority to negotiate this secret trade deal and will no doubt approve it when presented as an all-or-nothing, no-amendment final agreement. They must know something the rest of us only suspect about what is being negotiated behind closed doors or simply realize that the President can be relied upon to advance the corporate trade agenda.

But on Trade Adjustment Assistance, to assist workers and small businesses displaced by International trade, most of these same folks who voted “aye” on TPA voted “nay”. TPA on TPP with TAA is bad enough but TPA on TPP without TAA is awful. Fortunately, Obama insisted that he be served up a little TAA with his TPA. WHEW!

Charles R. Cashmore
Billings, Mont.

Who Does Government Serve?

What’s the purpose of a government, anyway, to serve the public or to serve the king? I ask this dumb question because so many people give the wrong answer, and there is July, the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, England, on July 15, 1215, by John Lackland (the “Tyrannical Whelp” King of England) and also the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, signed 239 years ago on July 4, 1776. Both long ago!

Ask any randomly selected person what they think of the current situation, and you are likely to hear “This country has become weak; we need a King.” This from someone who supposedly, at one time or another, has recited a “pledge of allegiance” to a flag “and to the republic for which it stands … with liberty and justice for all.”

If you actually believe in this, as I do, you ar in a small minority in this country, and a very tiny minority elsewhere in the world. Most media will describe you as an “extreme left-wing radical,” as they have done recently to Alexis Tsipras of Greece.

What’s going on became dramatically clear when the European Union people all walked out on him last week because he called for a referendum on Sunday, July 6, so the Greek people could vote on whether to accept more “austerity.” They were outraged that he involved the public, of all things. What an outrage he let the people get involved in negotiation being carried on by we important monarchists.

So, just who is it they represent? Who is it that profits so mightily from the “austerity” they impose on us all, a policy that shrinks the economy and creates poverty and more unemployment. It must be the parisitic descendants of all the royalty of Europe!

Harvey Stoneburner
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Trade Pact Disrupts Democracy

Economist Joseph Stiglitz gives a good example of the consequences of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Jim Hightower, as an example of what “free trade’ is already doing, cites the World Trade Organization favoring a Mexican dolphin-killing fishery over US regulations. The TPP discussion (such as it is) is about jobs vs. lower prices. The mainstream media has shown little interest in the anti-democratic oddity of lobbyists and corporate officers writing a bill while our legislators have only fleeting access to that huge stack of papers. Remember when legislators — the law-makers — wrote bills rather than being kept in the dark about them?

That Stiglitz example: Australia and Uruguay passed laws to discourage smoking. Phillip Morris sued for lost profits. Bill Gates and ex-Mayor Bloomberg are paying for Uruguay’s defense.

The basic and world-changing issue that TPP would put on “fast-and-smoothly-disruptive-track” is this: Who is sovereign, the nation-state or the corporatocracy?

Jerry Bronk
San Francisco, Calif.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2015


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