Monday, June 28, 2004

Redrawing Democracy: The First Defender

I've spoken in previous rambles about how I think revenue collection ought to be handled, and how that ought to affect representation. I've written about how I think popular representatives ought to be chosen. As a result, I now have a legislative branch designed for a new kind of government, but how is execution to be handled? What I will describe is sort of a hybrid of the British and American systems (and their immitators), with a little military dictatorship thrown in--and yet, it should be a more just system. If that doesn't make you curious, I don't know what will.

In any matter of law, of the establishment of bureaucracy that does *not* involve the use of force in enforcement, no entity other than the legislature need be involved. If a welfare administration needs to be established, which will help out the poor while watching for abuses, the legislature could simply declare the chartering of an organization, their duties, how the head of this organization is to be chosen, etc. etc., and there it is. Now there's a welfare administration. Provide it with funding from the general treasury each year, and let them do their job, investigate them if they are suspected of wrongdoing, disband them and establish another organization, or just starve them (cease allocating funds from the treasury) if they aren't any good. The one thing such a bueracratic arm wouldn't have the authority to do is jail anyone or sieze any property... under any cicrumstances.

Examples of functions that cound be done in this way is currency regulation (so long as enforcement isn't an issue), public broadcasting, creation of infrastructure, public education (so long as its not compulsory), or any other thing that simply involves the distribution of funds in payment for a nonviolent service or cause. For anything else, there is the First Defender.

The First Defender is someone who will be sworn to protect and defend the people of the state from malefactors of all kinds, domestic and foreign. He will be the dual head of both any domestic police force or investigative agencies the Legislature chooses to establish, and of any military forces the legislature chooses to establish. He will have primary authority over not only the people that serve under him, but also over the disbursment of funds within his organization. He will have authority to act only within the sphere established by the legislature, to enforce the law and defend the country from foreign invaders. War will be declared only by the legislature; it will be prosecuted by the First Defender.

He will be chosen by a particular subset of the people--all those who have ever served the state in a time of war (whether they were originally a part of the military or just a local militia that assisted), and all who have ever served under the First Defender for a time of two years. His immediate subordinates--those who report directly to him--will be chosen by him, but must be approved by either the House or the Senate. Those who will have the authority to use force within the borders of the state will have to be approved by the popularly elected representatives in the House, the people at large having the most to lose in the event of an abusive domestic police power. Those who's authority will be foreign in nature, whether they negotiate treaties, enforce them, or prosecute war in foreign lands, will have to be approved by the monetarily chosen representatives of the Senate, the monied interests of the state having the most to lose in the event of a war (wars are very expensive). If there is an officer who is to have the authority to act within and without, he must be approved by both the House and the Senate.

ANY use of force in the enforcement of the law will be done within the structure of the First Defender. The only other source of the authority to use force will be that of the substates, by whatever means established in their respective constitutions. The federal government will under no circumstances have the authority to interfere with the substates' authority to have a means to use force in the defense of their citizens, nor to posess and regulate the posession of the implements of force--weapons--save those weapons with the power to damage an area greater than their own area (ie. nuclear weapons, etc.).

The First Defender shall have a veto on any laws that will require the use of force in its enforcement.

My reasons are as follows:

Why is the First Defender chosen by veterans and longtime servicemen, and not by the people at large?

In my opinion, a virtuous citezenry stands ready to defend their country at any time. All who are able should be willing to defend their country (if not necessarily their country's "interests"), and stand ready do do so at some point in their life. If everybody did this, then the "people at large" and "those who have served" would be virtually indistinguishable. In a country that isn't like this, then people who have never served in war or even taken the chance that they might have to shouldn't take part in the selection of the supreme commander of the armed forces.

This ensures that the person who has the primary responsibility in dealing with other nations is someone palatable to people who have actually seen combat. There are two kinds of leaders who are very bad for the country. The first is someone who never served in the military, and yet postures before the nations as a great military power, insulting people, risking war lightly. Few who actually has to do the fighting want to get into a war except when there is no other choice; having servicemen and veterans elect the supreme commander can help avoid this. The other is a supreme commander who avoids war in all circumstances, permitting offenses and abuses which are simply intolerable in the name of avoiding casualties. Men who have fought for their country, or chosen to stand ready, aren't likely to choose this sort of leader, either.

The other thing that this does, though, is that it ensures a bond between the actual head of state and the rank and file servicemen. Though we enjoy a remarkable loyalty of our military forces here in the West, many places suffer under military dictatorships which are often the result of a lack of a legitimate way for civilians and military to negotiate their differences. When the civilian government does something the military doesn't like, the military just takes over. If they had some primary means of having their grievences heard legitimately, they just might use that, rather than a violent coup. Under this scenario, the relationship between the First Defender and the Legislature becomes a point of negotiation between civilian and military interests. Civilians will be unable to force an illegitimate figurehead over a resentful military, and the military will be unable (legally) to either eliminate provincial competition or sieze the resources necessary to maintain themselves.

I'll edit this post to answer any other questions I think are broad enough to invclude here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The US and the World Criminal Court

This will be a quick filler post. Sorry I'm late.

I just read that, once again, the US Government is seeking to exempt itself from prosecution under the World Criminal court. I just want to say that I have mixed feelings on this issue.

On the one hand, this is typical of anybody that has the upper hand. It is very easy for a person to say "Of course people ought to be held accountable for their evil deeds... unless it's me, of course." It is a reprehensible thing to do, to be involved in the creation of a court of law, but then do anything necessary to ensure that this law applies only to ones neighbors, and not to oneself. What conclusion can we reach but that the US expects to use the court as a weapon, and not to allow it to function as an instrument of justice?

Then again, how exactly are the members of the World Criminal Court chosen? What are their interests? One thing that can be sure is that international institutions are not democratic institutions, nor are they responsible to democratic institutions in any real sense. Will this institution actually prosecute genuine human rights abuses wherever they are found? Or is it an irresponsible body that will act only when the interests of its members are served--which are not necessarily the interests of all humankind?

In a slipshod system of international law, I think it is only reasonable for any soverign body to opt out of this system if they choose. Now, if only our own makers of foreign policy weren't total hypocrites where this concept is concerned...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Classic Ramble: From Democracy to Tyranny

The Collapse of a Republic

"It is natural for a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist. In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to garandeur on the ruins of his country. In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interests of the public is easier percieved, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of corse are less protected." Baron de Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws, chap. xvi. vol I, qyoted from "Brutus" I, new York Journal, Oct 18, 1787, in the book: The Debate on the Constitution, Vol. I. edited by Bernard Bailyn.

If there is any statement about our form of government that could be considered prophetic, the first sentence of the underlined section is it. For the greatest complaint about our government, by those who bother to complain, is that we can't seem to control our upward spiraling debt. The reason for this is that every interest that has the power to do so clamours for government money, while the people typically clamour for lower taxes. Our government is ruled by both, and so we end up with the paradoxical, and self-destructive, behaviour of barely controllable spending that consistantly outstrips the money provided for these purposes.

Even in recent years, with a fantastically robust economy, and a people much more tolerant of taxation, the government barely manages to get by without borrowing further; the accumulated debt remains untouched. What will happen when the inevitable economic crash, or at least recession, occurrs? Or what will we do in the event of an unanticipated emergency of a truely national scale, a major war or something, and our credit is already streatched to the limit? Or have we become so arrogant that we believe we can anticipate everything?

"Brutus" predicted, in 1898 when the Constitution had been written, but had yet to be adopted, a number of things. The one that stands out most were his reservations on the granting of the rights of taxation entirely to the federal government. He speculated that this power would eventually allow the Federal government to absorb all the powers of the states. Because the laws of the United States are supreme, the States must ultimately be second in line for the public revenue. As "Brutus" put it: "No state can emit paper money, lay or imposts on imports, or exports, but by consent of the Congress; and then the net produce shall be for the benefit of the United States. The only means therefore left, for any state to support it's government and discharge it's debts, is by direct taxation; and the United States have also power to lay and collect taxes, in any way they please. Every one who has thought on the subject, must be convinced that but small sums of money can be collected in any country, by direct taxes, when the federal government begins to excercise the rights of taxation in all it's parts, the legislatures of the several states will find it impossible to raise monies to support their governments. Without money they cannot be supported, and they must dwindle away, and, as before observed, their powers absorbed in that of the general government."

Let's look at what's actually happened. The federal government engages in constitutionally questionable activites. The purpose of this government is to do those things the several states cannot do themselves, due to a possible conflict of interests between the several states.

These things include foreign relations; we can't have New York signing an alliance with one nation, South Carolina with another, possily resulting in civil war when the two nations go to war. They include intersate road systems, and especially rail, lest we end up with Austrailia's problem of mismatching rails. They include duties, imposts, tarrifs, since if any one state has lower import taxes than another, goods will simply flow in through the state with the lower tarrif, and then across state borders.

It could include a national system of driver licensing, since a more urban state might have higher expectations in licensing requirements than a less urban one, yet the Constituition expressly requires one state to respect the "Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State" (Constitution, Article IV, Section 1), resulting in a conflict. Internet regulation (while I find such a concept personally distasteful) would fall under this, for the same reason the regulation of commerce and taation of trade is restricted to the federal government.

Road speed regulation should not. Why should the citizens of California care how people are allowed to drive in Montana? The issue is potential loss of life and damage of property, and the risk of this is determined by local conditions. Let California have a 55 MPH maximum, and Montana have it's Montanabaugn. It's a matter of local conditions, not national interest. And yet, there was a time when we had a nationally mandated speed limit.

The methods and content of education are also not properly a matter of national interest. Why should the citizens of one stae care how the children of another state are educated? The only possible excuse is religeous and/or philosophical intolerance, a disagreement on what should or should not be taught. And the state with the best school system only benefits, gaining the best educated and potentially productive citizens. The state with the worst is the one that suffers, but the citizens of that state got what they voted for. Indeed, this is just the sort of competition that induces improvement, as one system proves to be superior to another and one state follows the lead of another. And yet, the federal government is heavily involved in the education of our children.

In both cases, it wasn't a case where Congress passed a law, the president saw that it was enforced, and that was the end of it. Rather, there was an existing law which provided money to the states for as specific purpose (the construction and maintenance of a national road system in the former case, some educational provision in the later; I'm not terribly familiar with the history of national education). They then passed a new law requiering that a new condition be observed in order for the several states to qualify for the grant, the passing of a 55 MPH maximum statewide speed limit, in the former case. This is a constitutionally questionable act, but where exists the mechanism by which to oppose it?

Typically, the constitutionality of a law is challenged in court. A citizen violates the law, challenges it's constitutionality in court, the Supreme Court makes a ruling, and, if found unconstitutional, it is overturned.

If a citizen opposes the speed law, they break not the questionable federal act, but the perfectly legitimate state law (which the state was essentially blackmailed into passing). The citizen has no standing on this issue. I can't see any way a state may oppose such an act, since, after all, it is the federal government's money, though I could well be mistaken. The only option that remains is simply to decline to accept the money, but then, in order to do what needs doing their way, they must collect taxes on top of what the feds collect, which is, short of an extreme revulsion of the federal government, a political impossibility.

This flaw in our system gives the federal government potentially unlimited power over the internal policies of the several states. This power is presently limited only by the political will of the people at the ballot box, which, due to the size of our republic, is "sacrificed to a thousand views," as Brutus mentioned earilier. The lawmakers of the several states have essentially no say in what goes on in Congress, any more than the avarage citizen does. This was not always the case.

At the adoption of the Constitution, the states had one direct link into the federal government. Senators were chosen "by the Legislatures (of the states) therof, for six years." An attempt by Congress to blackmail the several states passing specific laws would result in the several states rejecting their Senators next term around. the People at large won't do this, since nobody wants to vote against their own program, but the legislatures, which ultimately have to cope with the results of such an act, might react differently, particularly in cases where a new requirement is enacted, without providing the money to actually carry it out (which has been the case several times in the past).

With senators elected by legislatures, the several states had a voice in the federal government. However, in 1913, the 17th amendment was ratified, which transferred this power from the legislatures to the people at large. This was hailed as a victory for Democracy, but also had the unintended (or perhaps intended? there have always been those who despised the federal system, preferring a unitary one) consequence of stripping the states of their last remaining shred of soverignty. What authority remains to them exists purely at the pleasure of the federal government.

As I said before, the federal government has it's uses. It is necessary to ensure that commerce can continue and that we can resist the encroachments of foreign nations. However, there are also things which are best handled by the states, for the reasons put forth by baron de Montesquieu. Given the chance, the federal government will ursup these duties, as history has proven. If we are to retain our liberty, this must be prevented. To this end, I suggest we repeal the seventeenth amendment. Since the Sentate, presently dependent on the whims of a million voices, is unlikely to give it's independent and less accountable nature, perhaps it is time for our state legislatures to excercise a power never before excercised. Perhaps it is time to call a Convention.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Redrawing Democracy: Harnessing Capitalism

Skip to the conclusion if you want a quick summary of what this document contains.

If there's one thing most people agree upon, its that our politics has been corrupted by people with lots of money. Elections are largely decided by the economic control of mass media; he who buys the most television hours tends to win. He who fails to buy any is unheard of, and never even makes the nomination. Many politicians, in response to the fact that everybody knows our politics are corrupted by the flow of money through it, call for reforms in “campaign finance,” but they don't follow through with it. Some don't vote for it on principle, saying that “campaign finance reform” is just a sneaky way to deny speech rights to people the campaign finance reformers don't like. Others don't vote for it because it is generally only necessary to make a speech to get people to believe he is for a particular issue; few check vote records. Ultimately, it is because they are dependent upon this system; it's what got them elected in the first place.

Personally, I think that so long as we allow economic inequalities (and I think an attempt to remove economic inequalities only results in other, more sinister forms of inequality), our campaigns are inevitably going to be influenced by the money necessary to control mass media. Wherever it is possible, people with an opportunity for power are typically going to take it. People with money can pay for pamphlets, air time, a network of professional door-to-door advertisers—they can get the word out. People who wish to serve in public office can dramatically increase their chances of being elected by tapping these resources. One can make some speeches to the public about issues they care about, then do favors for the people who paid for the campaign. George W. Bush is doing it now, and elected members of our government that came before him (Republican and Democrat) have done it too.

It's even worse when a large portion of the economy is dominated by government spending. Most of the big companies have some sort of tie to our government through military contracts. These companies then hire lobbyists and contribute to campaigns, which ensures that government spending remains where it is, if not increasing. Thus, they ensure that they make even greater profits. This money can then be used to influence the politicians, gaining the companies more contracts, in a spiral of money, most of which comes not from these companies, but from the rest of the economy through taxation. Very simply put, in a roundabout way, much of the special interest money that goes to corrupt our government was originally tax money.

However, I do not believe that campaign finance reform is the answer. I think that the “free speech” argument is right. The simple fact is that people have a right to have their voice heard, to communicate in whatever fashion they see fit. If they just happen to have enough money to ensure that many more people see their communications than if they had less money, so be it. We live in a capitalist democracy, and the only way to reduce the influence of the rich is to reduce the rich. Make “campaign finance” illegal, and you only exclude the honest financiers. Those that want to buy campaigns will find a way of doing it.

Personally, I think that the problem isn't the money, but the dishonesty that accompanies it. Politicians need votes to get elected. In order to get those votes, they have to say things that people want to hear concerning what they will do if elected, what they believe, their values—and they need to be heard saying it. In order to be heard, they need money to spend on air time. In order to get money, they need to say what the people that have money want to hear. Often, these things are not the same as what is said to the people who provide the votes. So, in order to get elected, they generally have to lie to somebody. Once a person has rationalized such systematic lying, what other forms of dishonesty are they capable of? I am reminded of a movie entitled Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which a politician who is known for honest and compassionate representation turns out to be little more than a stooge to a Tammany Hall style political machine.

Once in office, politicians must take great care not to offend the national news media. Many politicians have had their careers ruined by national networks providing continual, non-stop coverage of some blunder they have made. At the same time, a politician's career can be made by continual, non-stop coverage and interpretation of their better actions. Two presidents, for example, can perform the same action: a bombing that results in the deaths of many civilians. The media's attitude toward that president decides how people see it. For presidents they don't like, it is a horrible atrocity, focused upon exclusively about every five minutes. For presidents they do like, it is downplayed as “collateral damage,” when it's mentioned at all, at this. Then, when victory is achieved, pictures of people dancing in the streets are shown. If they don't like the president, pictures of the wounded and protesters are shown. There is a wealth of pictures on all sides of any issue, and by picking and choosing the images, the national news media can influence almost totally the way people perceive the issue, and how they perceive any politician who could possibly be connected with it.

Ultimately, our politicians must contend with conflicting loyalties involved in getting elected and trying to stay that way. They must say what the people want to hear, what their contributors want to hear, and what the people who—through corporate ownerships—control the national media, want to hear. Ultimately, all they have to do, so long as they have the media on their side, is say what the people want to hear; they don't necessarily have to actually do anything about it. It isn't the money, it's the system. There are probably plenty of politicians who start out trying to do their job honestly, but the honest men are ultimately either corrupted or removed from office. The few who have a constituency that allows them to serve honestly (I'd be hard pressed to identify such a place) are very few, and numerically irrelevant where national politics are concerned.

You can't keep the money out of politics. Money is just our way of expressing the influence that comes from a contribution to a process, and taking the money out will simply result in a more direct bartering of services, off the record. No, we need not to remove the money, but to channel it in a more constructive way. My suggestion is that, rather than piling meaningless law upon meaningless law trying to pretend that our legislature is not influenced by the money that goes into its election, we instead go the other direction entirely. I suggest we literally sell one house in a bicameral legislature.

What I mean is this. Assuming we're doing this U.S. Senate style (this system is applicable to any bicameral legislature), over the course of two years, people would buy “shares” in the Senate. At the time of the election, these contributors would vote for the Senate much like shareholders vote for corporate officers. Their votes would be weighted by the amount of contribution made by the voter. Anybody who wished to contribute could do so. (I would go so far as to permit non-citizens and representatives of foreign governments to contribute.)

I would also abolish internal taxation at the federal level. This would remove the “prize” that can be won though the purchasing of elections. The government would have only the revenues made from these sales, and from tariff collection. I would hope that between a genuine desire of some to contribute to the upholding of justice and liberty, and the desire of special interest groups (everything from military supply companies, to labor unions, to environmental lobbies, and state governments) to dominate policymaking, that the government would have sufficient funds to uphold liberty and justice. At present, I think our government has far more than it needs for this, and that much of it goes against the common good, both in this country, and in many others.

First off, it would end the requirement that people with money engage in dirty dealing to protect their position from a government that would gladly steal from them if it could. No longer would they have to corrupt potentially honest men. Now they could simply hire somebody to represent their interests openly and honestly. With the influence of the wealthy concentrated in the Senate, those who wish to represent the interests of the people likely could do so without having to worry quite as much about being undercut by a less honest, but better funded politician. Those who would represent moneyed interests could do so openly and honestly, as well.

Secondly, it would divert a great deal of the money that would go to the national media under our current system. Making the media more dependent upon their customers, rather than the other way around, seems like a very good thing to me. There has been a lot of media consolidation going on in recent years. Control of the minds of the people who rely upon the media for their information is the product of a media corporation that determines most of what people see and hear. This is not a product conducive to liberty. There is little doubt in my mind that most of the news we get, the commercials we see, even many of the television shows we see are designed to create an electorate which doesn't know any better than to support those the media wishes to be supported. If the money went directly to the government, rather than enriching the major media corporations, we just might see a return to a more competitive, perhaps even a more honest, national mass media.

Finally, taking direct taxation out of the hands of the federal government would re-empower the states to enact their own local efforts. At present, the fact that the federal government takes a much larger share of the potential tax dollars in this country means that the states are reliant upon federal spending for their own revenues. Any time the federal government wants something done that it doesn't have the authority to do, it simply threatens to revoke funding for whatever state project is related if the state doesn't adopt a law having the effect the federal government would like to create. The result of this sort of thing was the nationally mandated speed limit that was in place years ago, and nationally mandated “abstinence only” sexual education at public schools (a policy which causes my home state, California, to simply give up the related federal funding).

Finally, the money that went in would be the money that came out. Election manipulation would no longer be a way to make a profit. Only those providing genuinely necessary services could expect to come out ahead of where they began.

The first thing many would say about this proposal is that it would result in handing the government over to moneyed interests. I remind them of 2 things. First off, moneyed interests already have an indeterminable amount of influence over our government. At least under this system, we would know exactly how much influence they have, measurable in dollars and cents. The second thing is that this system only sells half of the legislature. The people would still have the House of Representatives and, if anything, the easy, public, and honest access of money to the Senate would end up diverting some money away from the popular elections, resulting in a purer representation on that side, as well.

In conclusion, my proposal is to remove the authority for direct taxation from the federal government, and have representation in the Senate be directly connected to voluntary contribution to the treasury of the federal government. This would result in the honest representation of moneyed interests in the Senate, and the honest representation of popular interests in the House of Representatives. It would also result in taking Big Media out of the loop, reducing it, once again, to an outlet for ideas, rather than a creator. It just might return this land to freedom.