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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
For the interested and the couldn’t-give-less-of-a-shit 
Monday, December 4th, 2006 | 07:37 pm [college, politics]
Steve

The “We the People” project in my government class is nearly complete, so I figured I’d share with you all what we wound up with.  Here is my summary, to be added to our group presentation tomorrow:

 

Given the diversity of philosophy and opinion within the group, I’m shocked that we came up with something as coherent and sensible as the document we’ve presented here.  I resist identifying with any political group or ideology, but I think it’s safe to say James, our chairman, and I fall somewhere to the left of Darren, Heather, and George, and to a lesser extent Steph as well.  Lindsey might be too much of a novice at this politics stuff to have formed many steadfast beliefs regarding government, but then again during our first meeting she came down against term limits—the only dissenting voice on the issue—so maybe she’s the most radical of us all.

 

We settled on twelve amendments, which James then whittled to eight due mostly to time.  I’ll comment on all twelve, starting with the eight to which our chairman didn’t object:

 

  1. English shall be considered the official language of the United States.  I voted for this one, but of all the amendments that made it in, it’s the one I’m least gung-ho for.  The question of national language is a clothespin issue for me—I don’t object to it in principle, but I detest the way it’s been used to encourage the “Us vs. Them” mentality that dominates the immigration debate.  Is it fair to require people who live in the U.S. and desire citizenship to learn and comprehend English?  It’s perfectly fair; I only wish we could find a way to explain and implement it that wasn’t so divisive and was more in keeping with the spirit of America.
  2. The President shall not have authority to use executive orders, signing statements, or any other means to thwart the will of Congress or the Constitution.  This is a perfect example of how a Constitutional amendment can help not only to provide a helpful clarification, but also to increase the power of the people.  The legality of signing statements has been questioned for years, ever since President Bush took to issuing one with virtually every bill he signed into law; by eliminating signing statements with this amendment, we reaffirm what the framers of the Constitution intended:  that all legislative power shall be vested in the Congress.
  3. The rights of the citizens being paramount, including the right to own private property, the government shall no longer have the power of eminent domain for any purposes.  I’m partial to this one because I more or less wrote it.  My original version included an exception to allow the use of eminent domain to establish national parks, but Darren talked me out of it.  He was right.  Government’s duty is to protect the rights of the people, not undermine them.
  4. The United States shall return to and remain on the gold standard.  This was Darren’s all the way.  I supported it because I believe it would strengthen the value of our money, and dial back the power of the Federal Reserve.  The Fed is a favorite boogeyman for conspiracy buffs like Darren; my only problem with it is the fact that it is an un-elected body, and in a democracy no un-elected body should have the kind of power over commerce and monetary policy wielded by the Fed.
  5. The officials elected as a United States Congressman or as the President shall be limited to serving one term. The official must take a minimum of two election cycles out of service before eligible to serve another term.  Term limits.  My only problem with this one is that we didn’t go far enough.  Forcing elected officials to sit out two terms before running for re-election is a much better system than we have now, but I went after a much harsher “one term and you’re out” revision which would spell the long overdue end to the career politician—in Washington, D.C. at least.  This is a compromise, not a great one, but not a horrible one, either.  An improvement.
  6. The Revised Order of Presidential Succession.  This is one of two amendments that I wrote and which made it into our final document with very little revision.  The idea with this one is to cut out the possibility that, in the event of a catastrophe, a non-elected official would be tapped to assume the Presidency.  The new system isn’t perfect, but it’s much more in keeping with democracy than the current line of succession.  I don’t know about you, but the fact that we’re only one nuked State of the Union speech away from the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs assuming the office of Chief Executive does not fill me with confidence.
  7. The Recall of Elected Officials.  This is my other baby, and maybe the most important change we’ve made with this document.  Darren and I both had the idea, and I’m glad we voted it in.  With this amendment, the America people get a check over their elected officials.  The ramifications are profound:  if an elected official of the federal government is not performing to the satisfaction of his/her constituents, and enough of those constituents can agree on that, they can hold that official to account.  The mechanism is admittedly complex for a constitutional amendment, but designed so that it is sufficiently difficult to discourage frivolous recalls, but possible enough to be used when needed.
  8. All candidates will receive campaign monies from the national government. No contributions from any entity shall be given to any candidate. Each state will receive 1/50 of the budget raised. The total amount shall be distributed equally among the ballot candidates.  Another very important amendment, this.  James came up with the idea and really pushed us to included some kind of campaign reform, and Darren wanted something to prevent gifts from lobbyists to cub corruption.  This seemed like the fairest way.  Candidates no longer accept contributions directly from the people; instead, they share equally from a pot, resulting in a nice level playing field.  Freedom of speech is curbed a bit, but only in this instance and for a much greater good.  Besides, if one wants to express support for a candidate, there are many ways to help a campaign besides writing  check.  As Pete Seeger once sang, “Pass out a leaflet and call a meetin’.”

 

The four other amendments we agreed on as a group but which were nixed by James are:

 

  1. Children born in the United States to non-citizens parents will not be eligible for citizenship. However, children under age 18 will automatically be granted citizenship if their parents become naturalized citizens.  I thought this was a great idea that addressed an issue in the immigration debate in a sensible and humane way.  Children born within the borders of the U.S. to non-citizen parents would no longer get automatic citizenship, but children of naturalized citizens receive de facto citizenship along with their parents.  This is a good idea and it’s a shame we had to lose this one.
  2. Any person not legally within the borders of the United States shall be deported. All cases shall be handled humanely.  (Will fund out of federal budget).  James told me he killed this one because it’s not really a Constitutional issue.  I won’t cry any tears over it.  I  insisted on the “handled humanely” line at the end, and voted for it, but it’s another clothespin issue.  The immigration debate can degrade so quickly into racism and ethnocentrism, it’s really a shame.
  3. The United States shall not be allowed to run a budget deficit except during a state of declared war or congressional national emergency. Otherwise, the budget must be balanced.  I thought this was a good idea, too.  The exemption for congressionally declared war or national emergency guarantees the budget won’t cripple us in times of crisis, but any other time Congress can’t spend more than it takes in.  Makes sense to me.  This would’ve been a good one.
  4. Amendment sixteen is hereby repealed. Congress may never tax the personal income of the citizens of the United States.  I liked this one, too, though I have to say that if James wanted to cut four amendments for the sake of time and lightening the workload for the group, he picked the right four.  The eight left in are the real essentials; these four would have been nice, but losing them doesn’t hurt too much.

 

There are changes we didn’t make, didn’t even discuss, that I would have liked to see in here.  If this were all up to me, there’s a great deal more I would have included.  For instance:  making the President and Vice President separate elected offices, not a two-man ticket; making the Attorney General an elected executive office; and requiring anyone who runs for federal office to pass an exam to determine that individual’s intellectual fitness to serve.  There’s more included in my original “Five Changes I’d Make” document, at the end of my section.  But what I would have done isn’t really the point.  I’m proud of what we’ve done.

 

What makes our document so strong is that, despite our various political or philosophical leanings, we shared a common vision:  to return control of the government to the people—all of the people, not the select few who have usurped control of the body politic from the rest of us.  The changes we have instituted accomplish that.  It’s a shame this wasn’t for real.

 

Here’s the “Five Changes” thing I mentioned.  This was the first thing we had to generate for the project, and a few of my suggestions actually made it in:

 

Five Changes to the Constitution (If I Had My Way . . .)

1)    Term limits:  No one elected to an office in the National government of the United States may ever be elected to that office again.  Those who are elected or appointed to fill vacant offices may only seek election to that office provided they serve no more than two years of the vacated term.

2)    Revise and augment the Bill of Rights and other amendments to include the following:

a.    The right to personal privacy:  Citizens and legal residents of the United States shall be free from any government search of themselves or their property, any seizure of their property, and any surveillance of themselves or their property unless such a search, seizure, or surveillance has first been reviewed by a judge and determined to have just cause.  So long as the law and the rights of others as defined here and elsewhere are respected, a citizen or legal resident of the United States shall have the right to live as he or she sees fit while in his or her own home or on his or her own property.

b.    The freedom from discrimination:  No citizen or legal resident of the United States will ever be subjected to discrimination related to wages or salary, employment, membership, admittance to institutes of education, or protection under the law based solely on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, economic background, physical or mental disability, or any other factor other than personal qualification and merit.

c.    The freedom from involuntary military conscription:  No citizen or legal resident of the United States shall ever be forced to serve in any of the armed forces of the United States against his or her will, except as punishment after being convicted of a crime following due process of law.

d.    The freedom from cruel and unusual punishment:  No citizen or legal resident of the United States convicted of a crime after due process of law shall be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment, specifically excessive bail or fines, and any method of torture or execution.

e.    The right to marriage:  Any two mutually consenting citizens or legal residents of the United States who are of legal adult age may enter into legally recognized marriage with one another, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the other discriminatory factors listed above.

3)    The separation of church and state:  The governments of the United States will neither restrict nor endorse any religious faith or expression thereof.  Though citizens and legal residents of the United States have the right to practice the religion of their choice, the government shall be officially agnostic.  Public worship or prayer in government facilities, by government officials or employees on duty, is absolutely prohibited.

4)    Recall of elected officials:  Any elected official of the National government may be directly recalled by the people in the following manner:

a.    Recall of the President or Vice President:  If 250,000 unique signatures of citizens of the United States are collected in ¾ of the individual States demanding the recall of the President or Vice President, a National recall election for that office will be held, to be conducted on the same date throughout the United States, with no less than 30 days notice given before the date of the election.

b.    Recall of Representatives or Senators:  If 150,000 signatures are collected within a State demanding the recall of a Senator of that State, a recall election for that office will be held in that State, with no less than 30 days notice given before the date of the election.  If 100,000 signatures are collected within a representative district demanding the recall of the Representative of that district, a recall election for that office will be held in that district, with no less than 30 days notice given before the date of the election.

c.    Recall elections:  The official being recalled is automatically placed on the ballot.  All other candidates must deliver at least 20,000 unique signatures of citizens of the State or district in which the election is held no later than 10 days before the date of the election.  The official being recalled and all challenging candidates will appear on the ballot in random order, and the candidate receiving the greatest plurality of votes shall immediately assume the office for the remainder of the current term.

5)    All elected officials and representatives serving in the National government are chosen via the direct will of the people, as determined by regularly scheduled elections.

 

That last one is basically the repeal of the Electoral College.  Darren wanted the Electoral College preserved because that’s how the founders wanted it, but personally I think the founders were full of shit on that one.

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