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.

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