Sunday 18 August 2013

Amend the Constitution!

People who know they can’t win on the rules often try to change the rules. The leaders of America’s conservative revolution know their day is passing, but they want to stay on the stage as long as they can. One of their more desperate measures is proposing amendments to the Constitution – amendments to ban abortion, ban gay marriage, ban Obamacare, essentially to ban all forward progress America has made in the last half century. None of these damnfool amendments has a chance of passing, but proposing them sounds good to the yokels who elect them.

I have a few of my own amendments to propose.

First, the Democracy Amendment.

It helps to actually read the Constitution. A lot of conservatives who screech about the original intent of the drafters of the Constitution have never read the Constitution, just as their social conservative friends don’t know the Bible as well as they think they do.

Let’s start with the “Tenthers”, the people who cherry-pick the Tenth Amendment out of the Constitution and, based on that amendment, insist that Congress does not have the power to do a lot of the things it’s doing. What they don’t want you to notice is that Congress, according to the Preamble and Article 1, is empowered to promote the general welfare of the country, which can mean pretty much whatever they say it does.

Articles 1 and 2 also instruct Congress to pass all federal laws, approve federal officers and judges, and man courts below the Supreme Court. This is a constitutional mandate, and certain elements in Congress are preventing these vital positions from being filled: federal judgeships, the heads of regulatory agencies. The business of the nation isn’t being conducted properly.

The next issue is performance in office. Amendment 27 says Congressional pay cannot be altered during a two-year Congress. Article 1 says each house of Congress can rule on the qualifications of its own members. Article 2 allows the President and other executive officers to be impeached and removed for high crimes and misdemeanors. Amendment 14 says you cannot serve a senior position in government if you give aid and comfort to America’s enemies; Article 3 says that such behavior is treason. And there are some members who, according to these standards, should be tossed out of Congress.

Next, how do we pick presidents? It’s more complicated that you think. Amendment 20 tells us what happens if there is confusion as to who was elected president; the language for this clear-up-the-confusion amendment is very unclear, and it seems to say that Congress can delay the presidential selection until the following January and just pick whoever they want.  Article 2 allows the House to pick the president, voting by state – so the more populous states get screwed because the big boys like New York get the same vote as the Wyomings and Dakotas. Article 2 also limits the presidency to “natural-born citizens” but doesn’t explain what that means (it also bans presidents from accepting foreign titles like Rick Santorum did). But a lot of this language is vague.

Next, the issue of removing presidents. Article 2 and Amendment 25 have disturbingly vague language indicating that Congress or even the cabinet can remove a president who is deemed unable to perform his duties. That means that if McCain had won in 2008 and irritated a lot of people in Congress, his own Cabinet could have thrown him out and give us…President Sarah Palin. I’d keep the language giving that removal power to Congress, but not the Cabinet. Article 1 also addresses what happens after a president leaves office, noting that an ex-president can still be charged with civil and criminal offenses, which makes you wonder why Bush is still on the street.

Next, the statehouses. America’s far-right is working with unprecedented vigor to wreak havoc in our statehouses, gerrymandering House seats so that even when America casts more votes for liberals than conservatives in House races, the conservatives still control the House. They are also working on a scheme to arrange the Electoral College in such a way that Blue states split up their electoral votes proportionally to the presidential candidates who wins votes there, while the Red states are winner-take-all, which obviously will help conservative presidential candidates immensely.

Next, voting rights. Article 1 empowers Congress to regulate elections; Amendment 15 allows blacks to vote, and Amendment 24 bans polls taxes. Also, Amendment 26 gives the vote to young people as of age 18.

So here is the Democracy Amendment:

·         No position which the Senate confirms can be vacant for more than six months.
·         The power of filibuster in the Senate is nullified.
·         Articles 1 and 3, and Amendment 14 of the Constitution, shall be used to remove any member of Congress whose destructive obstruction in performance of office is so egregious that it affords aid and comfort to the America’s enemies.
·         All members of Congress must pass a test of the Constitution before taking office.
·         For the purposed of impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors” means witnesses and evidence proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, the commission of a felony….and oral sex doesn’t count.
·         If no President is selected by Inauguration Day, the preceding President will remain in office while another election is held the following November.
·         A tie-breaking vote in the House for President will be conducted by House seat, not by state.
·         No person can be president who was not a U.S. citizen at birth.
·         Amendment 25 shall be amended to prevent the Cabinet from removing a President.
·         Any state whose House seats are distributed in a manner more than 20 percent at variance with the partisan voting in that state, will be redistricted by the minority party in the state legislature for the next five House elections, with review by the Justice Department.
·         All states will distribute presidential electoral votes winner-take-all, until a majority of the states vote to use a proportional method, in which case all states will use the proportional method.
·         No state will impose a Voter Identification requirement. (because they are unnecessary and disproportionately hurt liberal voting blocs)
·         Children under 18 who can pass the immigrant citizenship test can also vote. (since the Preamble calls on us to secure the blessings of liberty for posterity, who better to protect posterity than the people who will be living in it?)
·         All elections for the presidency, House and Senate, will be publicly financed. (Goodbye, Citizens United)

The Human Rights Amendment

The Bill of Rights affords us a long list of protections which the police often ignore.  Article 1 imposes uniform laws for bankruptcies. Amendment 22 limits Presidents to two terms, which means that a President is less accountable in his second term, and the political process lends itself to alternating parties every eight years regardless of performance. Article 8 and Amendment 23 give Congress control over the District of Columbia, prevent the District from putting representatives in Congress, and prevent the District from having more presidential electors than the smallest state, regardless of population. Conservatives like it that way because, among other things, D.C. statehood means two more liberal Senators. Amendment 9 says we have rights which aren’t necessarily enumerated in the Constitution; it is because of this concept that we enjoy rights such as a woman’s right to choose.
Amendment 21 repealed the prohibition on alcohol because it proved unworkable.

Article 1 states that Congress cannot stop states from allowing immigrants to enter, and that all rules of naturalization must be uniform (some conservatives want to bring in more Europeans and fewer of the scary brown people). The first amendment affords right of assembly. Amendment 14 eliminates Native Americans from the count when apportioning representatives. Article 4 says that states must respect the laws from other states, which makes for confusion when states have wildly different rules on issues such as gay marriage, which is further complicated by the equal-protection clause in Amendment 14. Article 6 bans any religious rest for public office. The language in Amendment 1 regarding religion is being expanded egregiously by churches to encompass rights they founders didn’t intend them to have. Article 1 provides for promoting the progress of science.

So, to untangle this mess of rights and responsibilities, the Human Rights Amendment:

·         All states shall suspend stop-and-frisk procedures and papers-please procedures.
·         All states will provide defendants with a counselor who has actually won a jury trial; “lawyers” who only know how to plead out cases before trial need not apply for positions as public defenders.
·         Any police search of a woman’s body will be conducted indoors by a policewoman.
·         Banks and corporations will adhere to the same regulations in applying for bankruptcies, as private individuals who have financial difficulty due to medical issues or other causes. Wall Street and Main Street play by the same rules.
·         The Presidential term limits are abolished.
·         The District of Columbia is to be granted full statehood.
·         No state, nor Congress, shall pass any law affecting a woman’s right to choose, to include extra restrictions on the business operations of women’s health clinics.
·         The 19th Amendment shall be expanded to ban all discrimination based on sex, in keeping with the spirit of the 14th Amendment provision for equal protection.
·         Marijuana is to be decriminalized, regulated and taxed.
·         Congress shall not limit immigration, or give preferential treatment to various ethnic groups regarding naturalization and citizenship.
·         No state, nor Congress, shall pass any law restricting the formation and operation of labor unions.
·         Native Americans shall be counted when apportioning representatives in Congress.
·         All states will grant equal rights and protections in every particular, to all couples consisting of two consenting adults, who wish to marry.
·         No state shall pass a law banning atheists from public office, jury duty, or any other public function.
·         The religion provision in Amendment 1 does not afford tax-exempt status to religious groups, or the right to violate campaign-finance laws, or to insert religious belief into science, education, medicine, or any endeavor other than religious worship; religious conscience cannot be used as a pretext to break the law or discriminate in any public function. (to include denying contraception to women and teaching “intelligent design” in schools)

The Budget Amendment

Conservatives who have never read the Constitution don’t seem to realize that the Constitution empowers the federal government to collect taxes. The Constitution also directs the House to originate revenue bills, which is why it is silly to scream at the Senate or the President for “not passing a budget”. It also empowers the government to borrow money, which is why it is stupid to holler at Obama for borrowing money to clean up Bush’s messes. Also, Article 1 says repeatedly that taxes are to be levied and apportioned in a proportional way, in the states. And most importantly, Articles 1 and 6, and Amendment 14, forbids anyone from trying to invalidate or default on the national debt.

So, the Budget Amendment:

·         Each state will receive federal spending in proportion to the amount of taxes it pays. (This will be a nasty shock to the Red states who think they are the “real America” subsidizing all those nasty brown people in the Blue states – the Red states actually are net consumers of federal money, and the Blue states are subsidizing them)
·         Any member of Congress who threatens to violate the Constitution, by using the threat of a debt default as leverage in a budget negotiation, shall be removed from office.

The Redneck Amendment

A lot of conservatives, when cornered in a debate about the Constitution, hop up on their hind legs and begin howling about the intent of the framers of the Constitution. First of all, a lot of their interpretations about the intent of the framers are wrong. Second, the framers never intended for us to take their words, action, opinions and illusions as holy writ, because they knew that they were potentially as full of crap as any other group of politicians, a good thing since they were a bunch of rich white men who in some cases owned slaves. This is why they left it to future generations to use the amendment process to fix their mistakes and account for changes in modern life that they didn’t foresee.

In one case, we even had to use an amendment to kill an amendment, which shows us a vivid object lesson: no matter how stupid an idea is, like trying to ban alcohol, a stupid but determined minority can ram bad ideas down our throats in such a permanent way that it can take fourteen years to clean up the mess. Something to keep in mind when we see small groups of extremists working tirelessly for decades to overturn Roe or the right to vote.

The point being that (a) conservatives don’t really understand what the founders intended, and (b) even the founders didn’t want to hold us to that two-hundred year-old standard.

One misconception that conservatives cling to is that notwithstanding the outcome of the Civil War, the states had, and still have, the right to secede. Um, no. Even setting aside the stupidity of the idea – if we let regions split off every time they don’t get their way in the democratic process, democracy as we know it will die either by repeated secession or by blackmail, and the country will split into smaller and smaller pieces until we look like the Balkans --  the Constitution does not allow secession or nullification, establishing that the Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land. Article 1 says that the states cannot enter into independent alliances or confederations, print money, keep troops or navies, engage in war, or make agreements with other states or foreign countries.

Another misconception is that the concept of posse comitatus prevents the federal army from putting down any rebellion or insurrection. Articles 1 and 4 allow the federal government to suspend habeas corpus and protect against domestic violence. And even the posse comitatus act of the nineteenth century allows for a number of loopholes which the federal government can use to intervene, if a state government can’t or won’t fix a local problem which threatens the implementation of the Constitution or the exercise of citizen rights. So crushing a tea-party rebellion, or Oath-Keeper insurrection, or militia attack, or whatever, is entirely within the rights of the federal government.

Another misconception, which is shared by Supreme Court Justices who should know better, is that the Constitution grants gun rights to everybody. It specifies that gun rights belong to militias, and it specifies further than militia doesn’t mean your Uncle Billy Bob creating the “Idaho I Hate Colored Folks Club” in his basement. Article 1 specifies that a militia is a body which executes the laws of the nation, suppresses insurrections, and accepts the organizational discipline of Congress (and the orders of the President). So again, no Uncle Billy Bob.

A number of times the founders and the courts have felt compelled to state something more than once, because the yokels didn’t get the message the first time. So in that spirit, the Redneck Amendment is simply an affirmation:

“You rubes do not have the right to secession, rebellion, armed revolt, or unlimited gun rights.”

Stating it all again may stop these stupid rubes from shooting the place up the next time liberals have the nerve to elect a President they don’t cotton to.

The case for a female president

Not long ago Michelle Obama said America is ready for a female president. She is actually more right than you think. Right now is the perfect time for a woman to lead America, and play a leadership role in the world. Women’s rights have been taking a pounding in the United States, on everything from abortion to contraception, and things are as bad as ever for women in the less civilized parts of the world.

Here are three reasons why we could really use a woman at the helm right now.

First, here in America there are a lot of issues that women need fixed, in no particular order…

Rape: Instead of slut-shaming rape victims, and punishing them, and protecting rapists who happen to be athletes and entertainers, and pretending that rape isn’t really rape, how about we actually treat rape as a crime and punish the criminals?

Voting rights: Women’s voting rights are under attack in many quarters around the globe, and U.S. conservatives are eagerly attacking the rights of liberal groups such as blacks and students to vote, so watch for them to go after women’s voting rights here too. One issue is that a third of women don’t have valid ID due to name changes from marriage or divorce. Conservatives would love to see voter-identification rules that make it harder for the ladies to vote.

Equal pay:  Enough said.

Supporting the Violence Against Women Act: Conservatives were fighting VAWA because the bill didn’t do enough to be mean and shitty to gays, lesbians and immigrants. Time to grow up, boys, thank you.

CEDAW:  The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women is a UN treaty codifying a bill of rights for women. Almost every nation on earth ratified it. Among the few exceptions: Iran, Somalia, Sudan….and the United States. We’re actually in bed with the ayatollahs on this.

Policemen: can we stop them from probing women’s vaginas on the side of the road for the fun of it?

Poverty: It hits women and their kids more than men, so sometime soon can the conservatives stop holding a hundred votes to repeal Obamacare and ban abortion, and pass some jobs bills instead, so we can get the economy going? And until the economy gets fixed, stop trying to destroy the social safety net? Most of the people getting welfare are white moms who need a couple months’ help until they find work, if they’re not working already. That includes services for the homeless – also a lot of moms with kids.

Prostitution: Stop prosecuting the girls and go after the johns and especially the pimps and traffickers.

Sexual harassment: Anyone who thinks we’ve finally got people taking it seriously should check out that sleazebag politician in San Diego.

Enablers of abuse: Trafficking and sexual slavery thrive in part because of American sex tourists and military personnel deployed overseas. And by the way, can we also make sure our troops don’t rape any more prisoners the way they did in Iraq? Also places like Houston and California are major conduits for human trafficking, wherein people – a lot of girls -- are exploited for sex and on farms.

Services and support: Conservatives seem to take perverse glee in stomping all over the services women need – clinics, Planned Parenthood, child care etc. And of course misogynists around the globe are doing likewise: female nurses threatened in Pakistan, women’s advocates killed in Iraq; the Iraqi minister for women’s affairs finally quit because they wouldn’t even give her the money to do her job.

Reproductive freedom: The troglodytes are hard at work, even today, trying to take away Roe v Wade and the right to contraception, and slut-shaming women who seek birth control and have sex on their own terms, or even wear clothes which express their sexuality. Also, there are a lot of domestic abusers who try to either force pregnancy overtly, or sabotage the birth control, or refuse to wear condoms – ten million women must put up with this in the U.S. alone. Ironically domestic abusers are also known to go ballistic and beat their wives when they do get pregnant. Other examples of men seeking to control reproduction can be found all around the world: girls pressured into surrendering their futures to matchmakers, girls mutilated by clitoral circumcision to inhibit desire, Afghan politicians arguing about whether it’s okay to legalize marital rape.

Female politicians: It’s time we stopped accepting the boorish behavior of conservative politicians, and I can’t think of a better place to start than by demanding that female politicians be treated with the same respect that their male counterparts. Conservative hate-mongers take special delight in truly appalling attacks on women in power, from Hillary Clinton to Nancy Pelosi to Wendy Davis and Mitch McConnell’s new opponent in the Kentucky Senate race. Sheer intimidation, which often begins even before the female candidate announces her run, possibly an attempt to bully her out of the race. There’s a difference between rough politics and this nonsense.

I’m sure that some of you know all this already; the main intent is to inform those who have managed to get through their lives without knowing that the female half of their world is being treated like this.

The second area in which a female president could provide world leadership, is fighting the effort to treat women as commodities. Around the world, girls are used, bought and sold, often by their own families, as commodities, just as farm families trade for sheep and goats. Again, this is mostly aimed at the people who have never taken a look at how people are treated beyond our borders.

First problem: forced marriage, girls forced to marry against their will. This is particularly prevalent in Africa, and southern and eastern Asia. There is a lot in South Africa. Along the Afghan-Pakistan border families sell their girls to settle feuds (just as European kingdoms used to do). Sunni Muslims allow fathers and grandfathers to force girls to marry, and Hanafi Muslims say any male relative can do it, although the girl can seek annulment when she comes of age (if she can even do so safely). Forced marriage is also used by girls captured in war. Bride-kidnapping is epidemic in the Eastern Hemisphere, especially in the former Soviet States, and a lot of rape goes along with it; the girls are seen as property, a commodity. In some less-civilized regions twenty percent of all married women were forced to marry their husbands.

In more civilized countries the girls can go to court or church for an annulment if they can manage it, but even in places like the U.S. and UK a girl can be sent by force back to a country such as Pakistan, so she can be forced to marry a man who can then apply for citizenship back west.

In the UK there is now a wave of Pakistani girls who are being taken to Pakistan on summer “holiday” where they are forced to marry a stranger, on pain of honor killing if they refuse; one victim was two years old. It happens in Afghanistan and  Bangladesh too. It’s gotten so bad that a British charity is telling these girls to stick a spoon in their underwear, to set off the metal detectors at the airport: then she can tell the arresting authorities she is being kidnapped, and get help. The authorities are more likely to help if they see the tell-tale signs, like one-way tickets.

And in any country, “civilized” or not, pregnancy can lead to shotgun weddings, particularly in areas where access to women’s services and welfare barely exist. Forced marriage leads to abuse, powerlessness, rape, STDs, poor health.

In addition to forced marriage, there is a lot of arranged marriage: girls “voluntarily” give up the power to choose their mates, and rely on marriage brokers and marriage markets. Online marriage markets are catching on, particularly in India. In Japan it is big business, involving everything from matchmakers to detectives investigating the families of the intended. But the red thread running through it all is the idea that the girl isn’t choosing her own partner.

Next problem, child brides. Very young girls marrying due to pregnancy, captivity in war, displaced persons, slavery, fear of waiting too long to marry, parental fear that waiting too long will lead to immoral behavior, tribalism, feudal alliances.   In Afghanistan girls of nine and ten are sold to old men to pay off debts; in Africa a very young girl will actually fetch more money; Mormons pursue the practice under the table. Marriage at such an early age increases the certainty that the girl will be dominated all her life, and childbirth at such an early stage risks serious health problems – including death in the less developed areas.

Next, dowries and bride prices. Sometimes a bride’s family demands money for their girl, particularly if the girl is expected to work and produce (unpaid of course) for the groom’s family; other times the bridal family pays the groom’s family, if the girl is seen as a “useless mouth” to feed. In Afghanistan, money and goods can go both ways, in addition to the transfer of the girl from one family to the other. As is often the case, it is worst on the Indian subcontinent: in thousands of cases the groom’s family tortures and abuses the new bride in order to extort more dowry money from the bride’s family – many of these girls have committed suicide to escape their fate. They’re called dowry deaths. But in all these cases the girls are treated as merely one of a list of commodities to be exchanged by the families.

Sometimes girls are bought and sold outright. Selling girls is common in China and India; some interpretations of Islamic law allow women to buy their own freedom from their husbands.

Other times a girl’s marriage is used as a legal tool to achieve something else. Girls marry so that someone else can gain citizenship or hide their homosexuality; in China a poor girl can be sold as a laborer to a rich family, after which she gets to marry the rich son. Mail-order brides trade sexual servitude for financial support and citizenship, a concept which is closer to traditional marriage than we might be comfortable with.

And of course women around the world are sold to pay debts, for slave labor and sweatshops, and/or sold into prostitution. Every year 50,000 women and children are brought against their will into the United States for sexual exploitation. Saudi Arabia has serious problems with the trafficking, enslavement and sexual exploitation of women and girls; girls from Africa and Asia are regularly enslaved. Saudis who reside abroad can take female slaves with them; one 17-year-old girl was held four years in Colorado and raped regularly.

The underlying problem, obviously, is that the people who run these societies only see the value in girls, if they can exploit them for profit or some other gain. Otherwise, female fetuses aborted, female babies killed or abandoned. Once we fight for the idea that girls have value independent of their reproductive tools or their capacity for exploitation, the first steps toward global revolution can be taken.

The third thing is to set women free, around the world.

Just as America has extremists who picket and blow up abortion clinics, and wave homophobic signs at military funerals, and vigilantes who terrorize gay bars, our less enlightened foreign counterparts have their own bigoted thugs, the Iranian mullahs, the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, the Taliban and Pashtun hardliners along the Afghan-Pakistan border, extremists threatening Iraqi women. Their aim in every case is to terrorize women in public, into obeying whatever rigid code they espouse. The Saudi religious police, charged with roaming the streets with sticks to beat disobedient women, prevented fourteen girls from fleeing a burning school because they were not veiled properly; they all died.

Women and girls are fighting around the world for equality and justice on voting rights, divorce, parental rights, child support, property ownership, contracts, inheritance, domestic violence and rape. Women around the world must fight to be free of surveillance, and the right to testify in court and face their accusers.

In countries all over the world, and especially in Muslim countries, women are told that without a man’s supervision they can’t leave the house, can’t eat in restaurants because men are there, can’t use the internet or television without supervision, open a bank account, enter a hotel, enter a car, or travel. One Saudi girl was killed for chatting on Facebook.

For women in many countries, the workplace is enemy territory. They are told they can’t hold public office, work for equal pay, have a baby without getting fired, put their kids in day care, work as a teacher or doctor, serve in the army. In Pakistan a female provincial welfare minister was murdered because the killer felt that women shouldn’t work. In Saudi Arabia, women comprise only five percent of the Saudi workforce, the lowest rate in the world; an effort to open up more jobs for women was fought by the religious police and the government. Saudi women cannot work in a coed workplace, work without their husband’s permission, or teach boys over ten.

Around the world women get static for the way they dress. In Muslim countries women without burqas and veils have been killed or disfigured with acid. Even in America girls can expect scrutiny as to what they wear to school for fear of “inflaming” the boys, and they find people judging their clothes all their lives. Our girls aren’t obsessed with their looks for no reason – the attitude is taught to them.

Thousands of women and girls die each year in honor killings for refusing an arranged marriage, or choosing a man their father doesn’t like, or the “crime” of being raped, or dressing in a manner her father doesn’t like, or seeking a divorce, or fleeing an abusive home, or being accused of adultery. Even a perceived possibility of “sin” can get a girl killed. Men who kill women accused of adultery – often on no evidence – can go free in almost any jurisdiction in the world under the concept of “crime of passion”.

The misogynists who rule the less pleasant quarters of the world have found ingenious ways to torment women. Acid attacks to burn and scar their faces, whipping, burning alive, burying alive, house arrest for no reason. One rape victim was given ninety lashes because she ended up in a car with a man. One punishment which has roots in our own Bible is stoning: a woman she is buried in dirt up to her neck, and men throw one rock after another at her head, until her skull is crushed, or she bleeds to death, or chokes on her own blood.

What particularly attracts the ire of primitive males is girls who want to go to school. A recent study proved that a key factor for the success of a community is the point at which girls are given then chance to learn to read, up to the fifth-grade level: once they reach that level, they can take care of themselves and their families, they can learn, they can work, they can be independent. This is a terrifying prospect for a third-world man who has little control over his environment, except his wife and daughters. So girls’ schools are closed or firebombed, students are attacked or disfigured with acid, noses and ears cut off. The Saudis begrudgingly allow girls to go to school – but not in the same room with boys.

All of this gets worse, of course, in wartime. Women and girls become collateral damage in bombings and shellings, they are raped, they are kidnapped, they are forced into prostitution. It still goes on in every war despite the UN, the Geneva Accords, all of it.

Contrariwise, as a side benefit, anything that helps the women of the world is also likely to help children. Children across the globe are exploited as laborers, soldiers, drug mules, beggars, prostitutes. Child labor is huge in Africa. In the Mekong a third of the prostitutes are children; there are a million child prostitutes in India. Even in New York there are two thousand sexually exploited children. Some of the luckier children, if you want to look at it that way, are kidnapped, “laundered”, and then sold to adoption agencies. A separate issue is pedophilia, and it isn’t just in the Catholic church and the Independent Fundamental Baptists.

Every community and every country that treats women and girls with respect does better in every way. So find an organization in your area that is fighting one of these battles, and join the fight. And if a woman runs for president, say in 2016, give her a look. Can’t imagine who that would be…