BECK index

Democratic Reforms

by Sanderson Beck

Unfair Politics
American Militarism
Real Democracy
Constitutional Changes
Restoring Justice

Unfair Politics

      Governments are especially designed to assure justice with elections, laws, courts, and institutions of correction as well as security with police and fire departments. Governments can usually provide infrastructure more efficiently such as roads, trains, airports, bridges, tunnels, and utilities for electrical power and energy. Governments may also more efficiently secure for all the essential social needs of health care, education, post offices, and retirement security, though these can also be available in the private sector, giving people a choice. However, if the government neglects to provide these services without discrimination, the private sector is unlikely to do so for everyone. Government can also regulate commerce in order to make sure that negative externalities do not occur or that those causing them are held accountable.
      When governments give private corporations contracts to provide correctional and security services, they tend to be less efficient and corrupt, costing the federal government about $50 billion a year from waste, fraud, and abuse. Private companies take profits and pay management higher salaries than well paid government employees, making the services either more expensive or inadequately provided. Transportation may be provided privately or publicly, but government needs to regulate these and other industries to prevent monopolies, pollution, and other harmful practices. When the aim is to serve all without discrimination, the government may be more efficient in cost by not taking profits for private managers and share-holders of corporations.
      In the United States corporations have gained great power because of weak political parties divided by gerrymandered districts and special interests, because of a gigantic military-industrial complex, because corporate money finances political campaigns and lobbyists, and because the globalization of commerce in its race to the bottom has taken power and wealth from workers. Recently the Republican Party has become more conservative and primarily serves the interests of the upper class while Democrats cater to the middle class as well as wealthy interests. Both parties neglect the needs of the poor, though Republicans do so more than Democrats. Both parties were to the right of center with low taxes for the rich and corporations with benefits being given to campaign donors, but since the 2016 elections the Democratic party is moving toward the left.
      The four sectors which provide the most lobbyists who influence legislators are the military-industrial complex, financial services, the fossil-fuels industry, and private health care with its insurance providers and pharmacological industry. In 2003 drug companies paid 450 lobbyists to influence the US Congress to pass a law providing drug benefits which was profitable to their companies. In 2013 the five top weapons contractors successfully spent $65 million lobbying Congress to cancel the promised cuts in military spending in the 2014 budget.
      American presidential candidates in the 1980 election spent $92 million, but by 2008 this expenditure had risen to $1.1 billion, and after the Citizens United decision in 2010 this jumped to about $2 billion in 2012. This decision that removed limits on what corporations could contribute to electioneering was supposed to be balanced by the same privilege being granted to labor unions, but according to the Center of Responsive Politics (CRP) the businesses now spend about fifteen times as much as the unions. In 2014 the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision removed the aggregate limit on individual contributions to national parties and federal candidates. As a result campaign spending on the 2014 elections reached $3.7 billion, a record for a midterm election. CRP found that about $6.6 billion was spent in the 2016 elections. In addition Mary Harris of MediaQuant estimated that Donald Trump received $5.2 billion in “free” or “earned” media time compared to $3.2 billion for Hillary Clinton.
      The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) studied the 2012 elections in the United States and reported that 50 million eligible voters had not registered; 4.1 million residents of US territories were ineligible to vote; 600,000 citizens of the District of Columbia could not vote for a Congressional representative or a senator; 6 million US citizens had lost the right to vote because of a felony conviction; because of the Electoral College system presidential campaigns focused on only a few contested states; third-party candidates received little attention; spending on campaigning was the highest so far; yet most of the money spent was exempt from disclosure requirements; some voters had to wait in long lines; Ohio and other states prevented the OSCE from monitoring their elections; and most congressional districts were not competitive because of gerrymandering. The OSCE report on the 2016 US elections has not yet been published, but US intelligence agencies found significant influence by Russia and others that favored Donald Trump and harmed Hillary Clinton.
      Because of lobbying and campaign contributions, many legislators vote for corporate interests and against the will of the majority of people on many issues. For example, since 2004 most people have wanted to repeal the tax cuts signed by George W. Bush; but President Barack Obama, who had promised to repeal them, gave in to the Republicans even on the tax cuts for high incomes until they expired. Obama had promised at least a public option in health care reform but instead let the special interests dominate the bill proposed by Congressional committees. Obama had also promised to reform energy use in order to prevent climate change, but while doing a little to increase renewables he has promoted an “all-in” approach to the fossil-fuels industries. When Treasury Secretary Larry Summers in 2009 was asked about Obama’s plans to reduce carbon emissions 17% by the year 2020, he replied, “We don’t plan in America.” Facing the financial melt-down crisis during the final weeks of the election campaign in 2008, Obama gave in to the Republican plan to bail out the bankers and capitalists on Wall Street with $700 billion known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
      American businesses spend about $300 billion a year on advertising in the media in order to influence people with manipulative messages. Children between the ages of 2 and 7 see an estimated 14,000 TV commercials each year while those aged 8 to 14 watch about 30,000. Since 1934 the government has let private corporations use public airwaves to dominate radio, television, and other media without having to share their revenues garnered from this lucrative advertising. They collect billions for political ads without even being required to provide free air-time to candidates in debates. World media is now dominated by the following thirteen corporations: Viacom, CBS Corporation, Time Warner, News Corporation, Bertelsmann AG, Sony, Comcast, Vivendi, Televisa, The Walt Disney Company, Hearst Corporation, Organizações Globo, and Lagardère Group. The Internet is dominated by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, PayPal, eBay, and Twitter.
      Among the 21 most advanced nations the United States spends the least on public social programs and is ranked the worst in inequality, poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, maternity leave, and overall environmental performance. The United States has the most people in prisons and jails with one-quarter of all the people incarcerated in the world being in the US. With the “war on drugs” these numbers have increased in the last forty years from 92 per 100,000 to 500 or 743 if local jails are counted. This is eight times as many as the average in western Europe.
      The United States Government spends a smaller percentage of its total economy now called the gross domestic product (GDP) on public social programs than all the other advanced nations. GDP is the total amount of money spent regardless of its good or bad consequences. Thus it does not consider how well income is distributed or the depletion of resources or the harmful waste that is dumped into the environment or the human and other resources wasted on the military and wars. The mad rush of nations to increase their GDP has resulted in wealth being concentrated in fewer hands with more public and private debt, more unemployed for longer periods, worse market volatility, increased pollution, and the extinction of so many species that this Anthropocene epoch is being called the Sixth Great Extinction. In the past half century the United States has tripled its economic output; but the wages of the middle class have stagnated, and the general happiness of the people has not increased. Studies have shown that when people with higher incomes increase their wealth, they do not become happier; but when the poor get even a small raise, they do feel happier.
      Americans do have a higher average income than most countries. Yet Americans are not happier than many nations because the higher GDP is affected by much higher health costs with mediocre results, by much more military spending, by working longer hours with less vacation time, and by having higher incomes raising the average. The United States has been blessed with more land and natural resources than most of Europe. Norwegians have a higher average income because its government shares its lucrative oil and gas earnings with its citizens, as does the state of Alaska. Americans have bigger houses and cars and pay less for gas and oil because of much lower taxes. The gasoline excise tax rate has not increased since it was set at 18.4 cents per gallon in 1994. One result of such low energy costs to consumers is that the United States is one of the three largest emitters of carbon pollution per person. Since 1980 American politicians have voted for lower taxes, resulting in the largest national debt that passed $20 trillion dollars in February 2017. Americans also have personal debts of about $18 trillion, which is an average of $55,620 per family. Research has estimated that treatment of diabetes will cost Americans more than $3 trillion in the next ten years. Yet most of these cases could be prevented by a better diet and more activity.
      George W. Bush was selected by the US Supreme Court to become the next President in 2001 even though all votes in Florida were not properly counted, and Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than Bush nationwide. To do this the conservative justices even went against their own states-rights principles and therefore added that this decision should not be considered a precedent. The Clinton administration had created budget surpluses, and the projection was for a $5.6 trillion surplus in the next ten years. However, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan argued that federal deficits would be better than letting the federal government develop capital which could compete with private corporations. The Republican tax cuts, which mostly helped the wealthy, transformed this surplus into a ten-year deficit of $6.2 trillion. This money has to be borrowed from the wealthy who then collect interest on their loans, taking money from the general public without working.

American Militarism

      In September 2001 the mindset that allowed President George W. Bush to ignore the threats made by Ossama bin Laden were transformed by the destruction of the World Trade Towers into an avenging war mentality even though the nineteen hijackers killed themselves while perpetrating those crimes. Although fifteen of the nineteen were from Saudi Arabia (a key US ally because of its oil), the United States attacked the nation of Afghanistan. The future Al-Qaida criminals there known as Mujahideen had been financed by the US during their war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
      During his State of the Union speech in early 2002 George W. Bush declared the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an “axis of evil” even though they had nothing to do with the attacks on 9-11-2001. Using the term “axis,” previously used to describe the World War II alliance of fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan, implied they too were an alliance. Yet Iraq and Iran were such enemies that they fought a devastating war against each other in the 1980s during which the US supported Iraq led by Saddam Hussein. The hermit nation of North Korea is the most isolated country in the world and cannot even adequately feed its people. The Bush-Cheney mindset also persuaded Congress to create a new federal department called Homeland Security, using the patriotic term “homeland” previously employed by German Nazis. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act signed on October 26, 2001 allowed the government to spy on Americans and everyone else in the name of “national security.”
      In proposing an invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration argued that the war would be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues, and they estimated the US cost would be less than $95 billion. So far the entire cost of this Iraq War has been estimated to cost American taxpayers at least $3 trillion. The justification for the war was based on the propaganda that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction;” but this was false. The US invasion caused the United Nations inspection teams in Iraq, who were searching for such weapons, to stop their investigation and leave.
      Between 2004 and 2008 US soldiers discovered some obsolete chemical weapons in Iraq; but because most of these mustard-gas weapons had been made in the United States and Europe and had been given or sold to Saddam Hussein’s government for its war against Iran in the 1980s, the George W. Bush Administration kept this secret. A New York Times report by C. J. Chivers on October 14, 2014 exposed this and the reluctance of US military authorities to treat the American soldiers for their injuries from handling these dangerous weapons. During the Iraq-Iran War the Iraqis had used chemical weapons like these to kill about 20,000 Iranians and seriously injured 100,000 more. At that time Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa stating that the Islamic Republic of Iran prohibited such weapons and would refuse to use them. Khomeini ruled that using chemical or biological weapons is inconsistent with Islam. Then in 1984 Khomeini declared that Iran did not want to produce nuclear weapons either.
      The Iraq War started by the American invasion in March 2003 has resulted in more than 250,000 deaths. The medical costs of maimed American veterans will continue for decades, and the combined costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reached about $5 trillion by the end of 2016. The invasions of these two countries were crimes against peace, which is the most serious kind of war crime and was called “the supreme international crime” by the American Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg. President John Adams, who avoided a war, once said that it is great guilt to start an unnecessary war. Yet the perpetrators of these massive crimes, which have killed hundreds of thousands of people, have not been prosecuted, but they have made millions selling their books.
      Excessive and unnecessary military spending is bankrupting the United States in an era when Americans have no major enemies except a few rogue nations and small numbers of isolated “terrorists.” Yet because of the vested interests in defense businesses and the legislators they influence, the military-industrial-congressional complex continues to spend exorbitant amounts on weapons, even some the military does not need or want. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter already cost about $50 billion by 2013 and is projected to cost $400 billion. In March 2014 delivery of the planes was postponed one year because of continuing software problems. This is only one of the many weapon systems the Obama administration is planning to modernize for the biggest military empire in the history of the world. Pentagon spending in the last few years has risen to its highest levels in real terms since World War II. Yet the US would be more secure than ever if its military adventurism was not creating more enemies.
      As of January 2014 China owned about $1.27 trillion in US Treasury bonds. In October 2016 Japan’s holdings of $1.132 trillion surpassed China’s $1.116 trillion. Neither China nor any other nation wants a war against the United States; nor is any nation preparing for such a war unless it is to defend itself against aggression by Americans or others. In 2015 China with four times the US population spent $146 billion on its military while the annual United States military spending was over $600 billion.
      A detailed analysis by the War Resisters League shows that military spending in the 2017 budget includes $586 billion for the Department of Defense as well as $34 billion in military from Homeland Security, $9 billion from the FBI, $21 billion for nuclear weapons from the Energy Department, $10 billion which is half of NASA’s budget, $10 billion from the State Department, $13 billion in International Security Assistance, and $82 billion for retiree pay and health plus $589 billion for veterans’ benefits and the portion of interest on the national debt from all past military spending. The grand total of all this military-related spending for 2017 is more than $1.35 trillion or 44% of total federal outlays of $3.04 trillion if the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare are excluded.
      The aim of this massive spending for “defense” is actually to maintain and extend America’s world domination. This is called “full-spectrum dominance” and is officially known as “full-spectrum superiority” which is defined by the Department of  Defense as the “cumulative effect of dominance in the air, land, maritime, and space domains and information environment that permits the conduct of joint operations without effective opposition or prohibitive interference.” Yet by wasting American resources on these non-constructive purposes the middle class has been held back as manufacturing and consumer spending have declined. Foolish military policies, which are often illegal by international law, have made Americans less secure, less prosperous, and less free.
      President Obama has increased military spending and would have left US troops in Iraq if the Iraqis had not refused to approve giving them immunity from their laws. The US also demanded this immunity for the “residual troops” to be left in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal at the end of 2014. This military occupation of 15 years so far is the longest war in American history. On September 29, 2014 Afghanistan’s newly elected President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was inaugurated, and the next day the US made an agreement with him to allow 9,800 American troops with immunity from Afghani laws to remain in Afghanistan for ten years or more in order to train and aid Afghani security forces. Another agreement allows NATO to keep 4,000 to 5,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

Real Democracy

      By voting intelligently and getting more enlightened people involved in influencing elections we can change the governmental policies of our nation and the states and  localities. More progressives, peace activists, and environmentalists need to run for public offices. I believe that the Green Party has had the best policies for many years, but the powerful Democrat and Republican parties have dominated the rigged system so much that the Green Party as well as the Peace and Freedom Party have been at an unfair disadvantage for many years by being excluded from debates and because ballot access has been made difficult. At some point a growing reform movement could help the Greens become a major party; but at this stage progressives may find that a more pragmatic strategy is to challenge corporate and warfare Democrats in primary elections. Progressive policies are becoming more popular and widespread, much more than many people realize. Polls show that most people oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the use of drones to kill people. Large majorities favor increasing the minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges, stopping deportation and reforming immigration, controlling assault rifles and other weapons of mass murder, and taxing the very wealthy. If asked they would likely support taxing stock trading and carbon emissions.
      Yet many people also realize that the democratic processes in the United States have been corrupted by the influence of the wealthy, large corporations, and their lobbyists. The United States Supreme Court allowed George W. Bush to steal the close Presidential election in 2000. Evidence also shows that the 2004 Presidential election was also fixed in Ohio and other states so that Bush could win re-election.1 Thus he was able to appoint two more conservative justices who gave the Supreme Court a majority to support the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Yet some recent election results indicate that well organized candidates can defeat powerful incumbents even though they are outspent by large ratios. Nonetheless the system needs radical reform to make elections more fair and democratic.
      Instant-run-off voting (IRV) or ranked-choice voting (RCV) allows people to vote their conscience rather than for the “lesser of two evils” by ranking their first three choices. IRV has been used in national elections in Australia, India, Ireland, and Papua New Guinea. No run-off election is required. If no one gets a majority in the first tally, one by one the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and the second and if necessary the third choices of their voters are assigned to other candidates until one candidate has a majority, making run-off elections unnecessary.
      In the 2000 election the Green candidate Ralph Nader had to struggle to get on ballots in many states, and he was excluded from the public debates controlled by the Democrat and Republican parties. Yet Nader was very popular and was drawing much larger crowds to his speeches than were the other candidates, Albert Gore and George W. Bush. If that election had had ranking voting, then many people could have chosen Nader as their first choice and Gore as their second choice. The result would have been an easier victory for Gore who actually got 543,895 more votes than Bush anyway. With ranked-choice voting Nader would have gotten many more votes, helping the Greens to become a viable party. Imagine how different the world might be today if Gore had been President for eight years instead of the junior Bush! In 2004 Dennis Kucinich was ignored by the press and most voters because everyone assumed he had no chance of winning. Yet with ranking voting he might have been a contender, changing the whole nature of the election.
      The problem with the United States Congress is even worse as incumbents have a tremendous advantage in raising money for their campaigns and then outspending most opponents except those who are independently wealthy or cater to wealthy interests. This plutocratic system of elections, which gives the wealthy immense advantages over the large majority of voters, has corrupted our government and given us a Congress that Will Rogers called “the best that money can buy.”
      Yet while the three branches of the federal government—the President, Congress, and Supreme Court—have become dysfunctional with very low approval ratings, more people are becoming aware of political and social issues by means of the worldwide web, diverse media, and interpersonal communications. This situation and these changes offer a great opportunity during this megacrisis to bring about radical reforms by making use of direct democracy. Every national government today, which is called “democratic,” is actually a representative democracy or a republic rather than a real democracy. The United Nations is even less democratic because it is governed by people appointed by governments and by UN officials. Thus the UN is even farther from the influence of the people. The UN General Assembly is the one institution that represents almost every nation; but small nations have the same vote as large nations, and the General Assembly has little power.
      The internet with its worldwide web and email has spread communication so fast that now almost everyone has access to it by their own personal computers and other devices while others can use computers in libraries, schools, and other public places. Thus we now have the technology to develop direct democracy by which the people could vote on many issues, not just on a few candidates once in a while. Polls have limited influence over powerful politicians who listen more to lobbyists and campaign contributors who can help them get re-elected. Petitions and emailing and telephoning elected representatives can be easily ignored because they are like begging, asking them to consider issues.
      Democracy means “the power of the people,” and now is the time for the majority of the people to take power from the wealthy, the greedy, and the ambitious. By participating directly in influencing how decisions are made and what laws are passed, the people can correct the unfairness and implement policies that are better for everyone. One way to do this is to change the politicians by electing better ones in spite of the corrupt system, but another option is to work to amend the Constitution of the United States. This is difficult and takes time, but it is not impossible. Yet to take one issue at a time and try to get reforms made piecemeal would take many years. Given our planetary climate crisis, this may take too long to bring about the changes we urgently need now such as a tax on carbon emissions.
      I propose that we could bring about the reforms we need more quickly by having a constitutional convention, like the founding fathers did in 1787, and rewrite the entire constitution which would then be presented to the states for ratification. Such a convention could be held on-line so that any registered voter could participate in the discussion and the voting on various issues. This would prepare the way for on-line voting on a regular basis as part of the process of a truly democratic government.
      Although some of those currently advocating a constitutional convention tend to be conservative with issues such as requiring a balanced budget for the federal government, limiting the amount of taxes the federal government can collect, and limiting the number of terms of elected representatives, I believe that the majority of people would prefer more progressive changes that do not favor the rich. Some conservatives have even advocated the reactionary policy of going back to having state legislatures elect US Senators. In recent decades conservatives have been trying to reduce the role of government with the exception of the military and security complex so that private interests and their lobbyists will have more unfettered power and wealth. The most effective way to reverse the plutocratic decisions of the currently conservative Supreme Court is to amend the US Constitution. Already a movement is growing to amend it so that elections will be more fair, rather than favoring the wealthy and large corporations. Elections are contests and therefore require rules so that the contests will be fair.
      Recent revelations by Private First Class Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, WikiLeaks, and the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden have exposed the overweening spying of the US Government through its National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies. These are violations of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution and need to be radically reformed. Citizens have a right to their privacy in regard to their writings, conversations, and other lawful expressions unless there is evidence that a serious crime may have been committed. People’s email, telephone conversations, and internet communications should be protected from intrusions by government and private corporations. A United Nations report by a Special Rapporteur in October 2014 found that mass electronic surveillance of telephone and internet communications violates the right of privacy and Article 17 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was ratified by the United States in 1992, though with reservations on the death penalty and domestic law supremacy. More than five million people now have security clearances in the United States and are involved in spying on Americans and others in the world.

Constitutional Changes

      In the Democratic Constitution of the United States I propose many changes that would make the government more democratic and responsive to the will of the people. Residents of the District of Columbia would be enfranchised to vote in all elections just as members of the states do. Districts for the House of Representatives and for the Senate would be apportioned by computer calculations equally and compactly without regard to party affiliation in order to eliminate the party advantages taken by gerrymandering.
      The United States Senate would be made more equally representative of the people rather than the unfair and arbitrary equality of states. States like corporations are artificial entities, but people are real and deserve equal rights.
      Those states with less than 3 million people based on the recent census would have one Senator. By the 2010 census that would be the District of Columbia and the 20 states of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South  Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The 20 states of Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia, and New Jersey with between 3 million and 9 million people would have two Senators each. The six states of North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois with between 9 million and 15 million people would have three Senators each. The two states of Florida and New York with between 15 million and 21 million people would have four Senators each. Texas with between 21 million and 27 million people would have five senators, and California with between 33 million and 39 million people would have seven Senators. All senators would be elected for four years in the even-numbered years not divisible by four. States with more than one senator would have districts equally and compactly apportioned by computer calculations without regard to party affiliation. According to the 2010 census the number of Senators would be 99.
      Representatives in the House would be one for each state plus one more for each million people in a state. According to the 2010 census the District of Columbia and the seven states of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, and Montana,  would have one Representative each. The seven states of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, and Nebraska would have two Representatives. The six states of New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi would have three Representatives. The four states of Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Oregon would have four Representatives. The four states of Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama would have five Representatives. The five states of Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Missouri would have six Representatives. The five states of Tennessee, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Washington would have seven Representatives. The two states of Virginia and New Jersey would have nine Representatives. The three states of North Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan would have ten Representatives. Ohio would have twelve.  Pennsylvania and Illinois would have thirteen. Florida would have nineteen, New York twenty, Texas twenty-five, and California thirty-eight Representatives. Based on the 2010 census the number of Representatives would be 328, but this number would increase more rapidly than the number of Senators as the population grows.
      All federal elections would be by instant-runoff voting with voters indicating their first, second, and third choices. By this ranking voting only one election day is required to determine the preferences of the voters. Primary elections with voting by political parties would be held by the four regions of the East, South, Central, and West on the first Wednesday of March, April, May, and June with the order of regions rotating every four years to assure regional fairness. This would give voters in every state equal influence and would make it more economical for Presidential candidates to campaign during primary elections.
      In the new Democratic Constitution the registered voters would also have the right to vote on each bill that either house of Congress passes. Whenever the House of Representatives or Senate passes a bill, notice would immediately be sent by email to all registered voters who then would have seven days to vote electronically. Tallies of this voting would be made by legislative districts and by party preference as well as for the total vote by the nation. A majority vote by the people would enable the bill to move on to the other house and to the President for their approval. However, if a majority of those voting nationwide reject a bill, it must be approved by three-fifths of each house in order to be presented to the President for his or her approval. If the President vetoes a bill rejected by the voters, it does not become a law. Bills approved by both houses and the people but vetoed by the President could become law when passed by two-thirds of each house.
      Elections could also be held by electronic voting. Voters could request ballots and vote by postal mail in elections, but voting on legislative bills would be only by electronic means. Voting electronically would be protected by laws making it a misdemeanor to try to coerce or bribe any voter or for a voter to accept a bribe in exchange for a vote. Repeated offenses of this law and attempts to cheat by manipulating voting results would be felonies. Both houses would be required to vote on any bill sponsored by at least one-third of its members. This is to prevent leaders or a minority of the members from blocking or filibustering popular legislation.
      The Democratic Constitution also gives voters the opportunity to elect the major office-holders in the executive branch of the federal government in addition to the President and Vice President. Ministers of the fifteen executive departments of the United States would be elected for six-year terms (except in the first two elections) with five Ministers elected every two years. The fifteen departments would be Agriculture, Commerce, Communication, Education, Energy, Environment (formerly Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency), Health, Housing & Welfare, Justice, Labor, Peace (formerly the State Department), Science & Technology, Security (formerly Defense and Homeland Security), Transportation, and Treasury.
      The Democratic Constitution authorizes the National Guard and the Coast Guard for the defense of the United States but does not authorize war, an army, a navy, nor an air force. Existing military forces when this Democratic Constitution is adopted are to be dismantled according to treaties negotiated with other nations doing the same. Congress is given the authority to regulate and ban dangerous weapons for the protection of all people. This Democratic Constitution also bans capital punishment as has almost every other advanced nation in the world.
      Territories of the United States such as Puerto Rico and other islands must either become a state or part of another state or be allowed to be free and independent nations. The United States should not be retaining colonies without democratic rights.
      The new Democratic Constitution includes the right of citizens to attend free public schools and use free public libraries as well as the right to receive free health care.
      To reduce corruption elected officers and judges of the United States would not be allowed to receive other income during their public service. Elections would also be cleaned up by removing most of the money that has infected campaigns. Citizens would be allowed to contribute up to $100 to one candidate in each office for which they are qualified to vote during each primary and general election, and no other person, group, organization, or business could contribute to these campaigns. The United States Treasury would finance debates broadcast for each elected office and the sending of sample ballots to voters with equal space for all candidates. Days on which federal elections are held would be federal holidays.

Restoring Justice

      Although the United States has only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, one-fourth of all those imprisoned on Earth are in the US. The vast majority are locked up because of the “war on drugs,” and more than half are people of color. In 2016 about 2.3 million adults were in federal or state prisons or local jails while the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that a total of 6,851,000 adults were supervised in correctional systems at the end of 2013 including probation and parole.  More than eleven million people are arrested in the US each year, including more than two million youths. Americans spend on crime seven times as much per person as most European democracies. The rate of homicides with guns in the United States was 68 times that of England in 2011. In 2013 the United States had 11,208 homicides with guns and 21,175 suicides.
      Yet 88% of US crimes are nonviolent, and only three percent result in injuries. In 1980 the state of California spent 3% of its budget on prisons and 18% on higher education; but by 1994 the prisons budget had passed the higher education budget. Because of the 1994 “three-strikes law,” California’s spending on prisons has greatly increased. From 1980 to 2000 the US per capita spending on prisons went up 189%, and in Texas the increase was 401%. This shameful situation is a gross waste of human and financial resources.
      Most ancient and indigenous cultures used a community system of justice that has been called restorative. In order to prevent revenge and on-going feuds, offenders had to compensate their victims in some way. Although some of these also used barbaric punishments such as death or mutilation, these were usually only imposed for the most serious offenses. Tribal cultures have also used peacemaking circles to solve problems and resolve disputes and conflicts by talking out the issues and coming to consensus agreements. Peacemaking circles concentrate on healing and repairing the problematic situation while respecting the dignity and worth of all persons. This requires truth-telling and deep listening. In addition to interventions ways of preventing conflicts may be discussed. Peacemaking circles work to gain understanding, respect, and personal empowerment by creating better relationships.
      During the rise of empires and the powerful nation states under monarchical power, governments took over the community function and made criminals pay them fines, ignoring the victims. In the late 18th century prisons began to be used more extensively for punishment. The idea of using them as institutions of corrections developed, and they were renamed penitentiaries with the hope that criminals would repent and become rehabilitated. This philosophy reached its peak during the liberal era of the 1960s and 1970s; but since then a conservative trend has brought back retribution, and politicians have exploited widespread fears of having criminals “back on the streets,” resulting in longer sentences and large increases in prison populations. At the same time a victims’ rights movement has sprung up, and now the federal government and all fifty states in the US allow victims to testify at sentencing hearings.
      A few experiments have been successful at applying a modern approach to restorative justice that balances socially beneficial forms of retribution such as restitution, fines, and community service with practical methods of rehabilitation. The state or government is not usually harmed by most crimes. People are usually the victims of crimes. “Victimless crimes” such as drugs, prostitution, and gambling could be treated by rehabilitation instead of punishment. The lives of people need to be restored, not the laws or government. How does locking up someone in a cage like an animal for months or years at a time help that person reform one’s life? and how does paying fines to the government help compensate the victims of the crime? Restorative justice programs have been found to be more effective at reintegrating offenders into society and preventing recidivism, especially with younger offenders.
      Restorative justice is designed to create a process by which those involved in the harms caused by a crime can come together to collaborate on solving and healing the bad effects of that crime. It can work in many different ways, but the following explanation gives the reader a general understanding.
      If the offender admits guilt, then no trial is needed. If a person is convicted in a trial, then the sentencing phase can still use the process of restorative justice. Offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their crimes by participating in a conference with the victims. If a victim refuses to participate in the conference, then a community person may represent that type of victim. Also the offender may choose a support person who may be a relative, a friend, an attorney, a spiritual advisor, or other counselor. The victim may also have a support person, and the community may be represented by a probation officer, a relevant social worker, or a counselor. A facilitator or mediator directs the conference. In some cases the judge, the defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and perhaps the police may also participate.
      During the conference the offender explains what he or she did and why. This account may help those involved in the process to understand the causes and reasons for the crime, thus contributing to learning how crimes can be prevented in the future. Then the victim or victims tell their story. This helps them find psychological release and especially helps the offender to understand the consequences of his or her actions. The offender is encouraged to take responsibility for the harmful consequences by apologizing and offering restitution to the victims. Seeing how the offender is promising to make amends may help the victims to forgive the criminal and gain closure.
      In a negotiated process the offender, the victim, and the others work out a plan that might include compensating the victim, a fine, community service, and a program for the offender such as drug-treatment, counseling, education, and job training. Ideally consensus is achieved; but if not, a majority vote may settle issues. If it is the first offense for which the person has been caught, a successful mediation may result in no formal criminal record once all the conditions agreed upon have been fulfilled.
      Preliminary studies have shown that restorative conferences help the victims recover psychologically by understanding the offender better and experiencing closure on the incident as well as by gaining compensation for the wrong suffered. The offenders may realize the consequences of their crimes by seeing how they have affected the victims. By being given the opportunity to take responsibility and make reparations, the offender is much more likely to understand the consequences of what occurred and to be reintegrated into society. Recidivism has been shown to be much less likely for those who go through restorative justice conferences. In some areas they are called mediation, circles, or boards. Thus in restorative justice the offender, victim, and community are more likely to be healed. Taxpayers save money because of fewer and shorter sentences of imprisonment.
      Punishment that is justified only as a deterrent tends to make the people suffering it worse. They may become angry at the society which is punishing them and while in prison may learn more criminal behavior and attitudes from fellow inmates. Society loses by paying high costs for incarceration. Victims who neither receive restitution nor reconciliation continue to suffer from the consequences of the crimes. Restorative justice could be applied to many more cases and could eventually transform the criminal justice system so that victims get more justice, offenders find the reconciliation and treatment they need, and the huge expenses of the penal system could be greatly reduced. More understanding of the causes and effects of crime may reduce the number of criminals and crimes.

      The United States experimented with the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and found that it increased violent crime but did not solve many drinking problems. Because alcohol continued to be the drug of choice for a large number of people, that experiment was abandoned in 1933. However, other drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, psychedelics, and narcotics have continued to be illegal. Some narcotics, stimulants, and depressants are allowed only with a prescription by a physician. Many people believe that the abuse of these drugs could be treated better as a health problem rather than as a criminal issue.
      Similarly, other “victimless crimes” such as gambling and prostitution could be handled better if they were not illegal so that government could regulate and tax them appropriately. They are called “victimless” because they may not hurt other people but only oneself. Therefore libertarians argue that the government should not interfere with people who are not harming others. By making drugs legal for adults with prescriptions the huge resources of law enforcement and the penal system used for catching and incarcerating those who use such drugs could be saved and redirected into more productive activities such as treatment programs that help people break these addictions. Millions of people would not have to waste their time and society’s wealth locked up in prisons. People can still believe certain behaviors are immoral without necessarily making those actions illegal. These problems are often solved better by using education and counseling rather than law enforcement and punishment.
      Jails would still be used for those temporarily under arrest and awaiting bail, trial, or restorative conferences, and prisons primarily would only be necessary for the most violent and hardened repeat offenders. Law enforcement would be able to spend more time finding those committing other crimes such as fraud, identity theft, and other nefarious activities that are harming other people. Restorative justice would help those who think they can get away with stealing by teaching them that they will have to pay back their victims and society by working honestly to make amends. With fewer people in prisons more efforts could be made for rehabilitation by education, counseling, and job training.
      Ironically the most deadly drugs in our society are legal and do not require any prescription at all. The biggest killer by far is the nicotine that is inhaled in the smoke from cigarettes. This is changing in educated countries, and people realizing the dangers of second-hand smoke are passing laws against smoking in places where other people breathe. Alcohol is still a much abused drug and is most lethal when it affects those operating motor vehicles. Law enforcement for the latter and education are also ameliorating this problem. The drug that is most widely used is caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, and colas. This drug is addictive, and more than eighty percent of the American people have the caffeine habit. Many cannot wake up properly in the morning until they have had coffee. Others are hooked on soft drinks that are combined with so much sugar that drinking them is contributing greatly to the recent epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Most Americans are overweight, and obesity has passed smoking as the leading cause of death which is preventable. The selling of colas has even been allowed in schools, where children can develop the bad habit.
      I believe we have the right through our government to regulate the sale of substances that cause harmful effects to health, especially since the society and its government have to pay for health care. Thus I suggest that we can tax these products with the estimated amount that would pay for the likely health costs they inflict. This provides some deterrent to such bad habits without prohibiting them altogether and making them into a criminal problem. Instead of threatening to make people’s lives worse by punishing them, society can regulate these problems more effectively by having our democratic government apply financial disincentives that discourage self-destructive and abusive habits. These taxes then can be put to work in programs of prevention and health care that make people better.

Note

1. How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election  by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman.

Copyright © 2014, 2017 by Sanderson Beck

UNITING HUMANITY by Spiritual Evolution & Democratic Revolution: Solutions to the Megacrisis of Climate, Poverty & War has been published.

For information on ordering click here.

Introduction
Spiritual Evolution
Choosing a Better Future
Climate Calamities
Climate Solutions
Economic Democracy
Democratic Reforms
From Wars to Peace
Global Reforms and Human Rights
Love and Nonviolent Strategy
Documents
Bibliography

BECK index