• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Making Government Work Again

Is it time to re-write our outdated Constitution?

The average constitution worldwide only lasts 19 years and Thomas Jefferson suggested we re-write our Constitution every 25 years. Perhaps it is time that we re-write ours. How would you change the Constitution if you could craft a new one?

Article V of the Constitution outlines how to amend (modify) the document. It consists of two steps: proposal and ratification. It is just as hard to amend the Constitution as it is to convene a constitutional convention and re-write the entire document.

Currently 25 percent of people are registered as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats and 42 percent as independents. Many of these independents feel disenfranchised and feel that neither side is working for them. They are also angry that government is not doing its job. In other countries with a parliamentary system there would be multiple parties and proportional representation, and the parties would be forced to cooperate and form alliances and they would actually get things done instead of having the hyper-partisan gridlock, and downright warfare, that we are stuck with. 

Currently the two parties have a monopoly. The finances are tightly controlled and they have locked in the incumbents through gerrymandering. In the last election, even though there were strong challenges from the Tea Party, 291 of the incumbents won re-election and only two challengers beat the incumbent. Because the districts have been re-drawn to reflect their bases, politicians don’t have to do what the general public wants, they only have to cater to their base. All legislation is a zero sum game, so much of the efforts of the parties is to harm the other party, not to cooperate to solve problems. 

In the last 200 years hundreds of nations have re-written their constitutions trying to improve on ours. We can go to constituteproject.org to see what other constitutions look like and pick the best of those ideas and reject things that haven’t worked. I think New Zealand has the best system of government. They have proportional representation and preferential voting so there are no “spoiler votes” like third parties would be here. 

The most important issue to protect our democracy would be to get money out of government altogether, and to determine that corporations are not people and that their spending is not protected as free speech. Corporations should be forced to serve the people not the stockholders. Publicly financed campaigns and preferential or “instant runnoff” voting would allow third party candidates to compete. 

While we are at it, we should eliminate the Electoral College, make a nationwide computerized system to draw districts to eliminate gerrymandering, and make it easier to vote. Everyone should be automatically registered when they get a Social Security card or driver’s license. In some nations to solidify the idea that voting is a duty, they fine those who don’t vote.

If preferential voting is used for voting it should also be used for legislation. The Constitution states that all legislation except for a few listed exceptions should be approved with a simple majority vote. The filibuster forces a supermajority vote. The purpose of the filibuster is to keep the minority from being steamrollered. If there is a majority vote on a bill but strong objections, then three bills should be crafted, one from the liberals one from the conservatives and one from independent experts in that field. Then the Senate should use preferential voting to determine their first (3 points), second (2 points) and third choices (1 point). The one with the most points would become law. This would force lawmakers to cooperate to craft the best bill, and to attract those second choice votes. Once lawmakers see how easy this is, they could adopt this process in the entire Senate and House. If they can’t craft one bill everyone can agree on, craft three and chose the best of the three. This might restore civility to government and make government work again. 

Conservatives think government is too big, but it is really just too complex. Our tax code has 70,000 pages and people have to pay $300 billion a year for help to figure it out. It also has so many loopholes that another $300 billion is lost to cheating. A simple flat tax of 0.6 percent every time money is transferred from one place to another would replace ALL other taxes and would save $600 billion right away because no one would need tax preparation and no one could cheat, and it would only take a page to write the law. See: APTtax.com.

Part of the new Constitution should include a balanced budget amendment with a 10-year exception in times of war or crisis during which time the taxes on the rich should increase up to 90 percent like it was during WW I, WW II, Korea and Vietnam, and we should pay off the national debt. The best way to do that is with a transaction tax because most of the wealth in the world is tied into speculative inventions like the $270 trillion in derivatives. We should tax phantom wealth to create real wealth.

Now most laws are so long and complicated that lawmakers can’t read or understand the bills they sign into law. Much of the length is because special interests carve out loopholes or exceptions so the laws end up being ineffective. We should require that all new laws could be no longer than 100 pages. That would force the laws to be simple and clear so even the lawmakers could read and understand them without aids. The Affordable Care Act is 13,000 pages long and overly complicated. A simple Medicare For All program would use the existing bureaucracy and you could also fold the VA into that system. All programs could be simplified in a similar manner. Keep it Simple Stupid. After all, the entire bill for the Social Security System only took 22 pages.

Another reason the government is so complex is that programs acquire institutional momentum, they become more complex, and they find ways to justify their funding and continuation, even if they are no longer needed. We should instate a 5 year sundown provision so that all laws are reevaluated after that time. If it was not working as intended or no longer needed it could be rewritten or eliminated.

This would not only make government simpler but it would make government more efficient which would also save money.

The Equal Rights Amendment never did pass and most of the civil rights legislation was based on the commerce section of the Constitution. We need to insure the rights of all men, women, and children regardless of sexual preference, including what to do with immigrants. The Constitution should define the rights of everyone to have health care, an education and be paid a living wage for hard work. It should encourage an egalitarian society that strives for happiness and a fulfilling life for all. Another reason government doesn’t work is that all of the decisions made are short term. Congress should have 25 and 50 year plans.

The greatest crisis the country and the world will face is global warming and much of the unrest in the world is due to a lack of jobs. If the Kyoto Accords would force the rich nations to help the poor to reverse and accommodate for Climate Change, it would slow Global Warming and provide millions of jobs. The United States could lead the way by changing the Constitution to instate the mechanism to plan for and pay for adaptation and mitigation, with a carbon tax. We need to mobilize the entire country like we did for WW II. Only now we need to replant forests, relocate coastal cities inland, restore estuaries, dunes, barrier islands, and help people when they are struck by climate related disasters. We could do this with a universal draft/ community service program, paid for by a tax on phantom wealth to create real wealth.