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Amendment Proposals

Constitution writing is a thought experiment I engage in from time to time. While I’ve never written out an entire theoretical constitution of my own, I do have a number of ideas about how ours works/doesn’t work, and how it could be improved. Thankfully, it has a built-in mechanism for upgrades, in the form of Amendments, that can clarify or outright change sections of the original document. Here are a few Amendment ideas I’ve kicked around, knowing full well that they would almost likely never get so much as a laughing dismissal by any of the avenues to make them reality.

Presidential Fitness Amendment

I. No person shall be eligible to the Office of President who shall have attained to the age of seventy years at the time of their inauguration.

II. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public their personal and business tax records for the past seven years.

III. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public a full medical evaluation from a panel of no less than six and no more than twelve qualified and accredited medical doctors in good professional standing.

IV. The House of Representatives shall have the sole authority to determine the members of this panel.

On its face, this seems like a complete rebuke of Trump, the oldest person ever sworn in as a first-term President. However, it would also exclude a number of Democratic candidates for 2020, notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as making Joe Biden’s decision easy. Yes, Trump’s refusal to disclose his financial reports and the sham of having a quack doctor sign off on his health are in there as well, but I can also cite FDR and JFK in the “medical history maybe voters would have liked to have known about” files, as well as Nixon’s tax woes. Having a panel of reputable doctors make a full assessment means we get fair and impartial medical data, not the say-so of some family friend, and having open tax records would give us some sense if a Presidential hopeful is, in fact, a crook (spoiler alert: probably).

Presidenting is a difficult job, or, at least, it should be. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama aged 20 years during their 8-year residencies at 1600 Pennsylvania, so maybe electing a guy who’s 78 isn’t the best idea. We haven’t developed a cure for aging yet, and Sanders, assuming he doesn’t try to stay limber on the golf course for most of his first term, could be reasonably expected to age another 10 years by the end of his first term. The average life expectancy for an American man is… 78 years. Sanders, if elected, will already be beating the curve on Day 1, and taking on a job that is going to age him more than twice as fast.

The effect is that if you’re 70 at the point you’d be sworn in, you can’t be President (or Vice President). 69 years, 364 days? Go for it. Same if you don’t release your tax returns. And you have to have a medical evaluation by the nation’s top doctors. The carved-out exception here is that someone who is 70+ could run and be elected to be Vice President, but they would be passed over in the line of succession, as would a foreign-born Speaker of the House or a 34-year-old Secretary of State.

Excluding the VP from Section 1 is the recognition that Vice President is not simply a John Adams-style emergency successor, but more of a Dick Cheney/Joe Biden senior advisor to the President. Of course, it probably wouldn’t take long for Old White Men to run for “Vice President” at the top of the ticket, but hey, it’s a start.

Further, this would push the realistic age for Presidential hopefuls down to 65 – if you turn 66 before you take office for your first term, you don’t get to run for a second term because you’d be over 70 prior to being sworn in. Presidential terms are only four years, which means winning a second term requires another inauguration.

This would work well with a repeal of the 22nd Amendment. Get rid of term limits – Someone being elected to their first term the year they turn 35 would only be able to serve a maximum of 9 terms under this plan. Yes, that is a long time, but with an average age of just over 55 years when taking office, we’re talking about an average eligibility for 4 terms. And that still requires winning every four years.

Like Reagan, I am deeply opposed to term limits. We already have them, we just call them elections. That line of thinking supposes transparent and unmarred elections, but in theory, at least, giving someone the opportunity to run for and win the Presidency 9 times should only be constrained by the electorate. One could make the argument that I’m imposing a term limit here, and that’s fair, but I see it more as enforcing a retirement age, not so much a term limit. You don’t get to hold the launch codes when you should be holding a Bingo stamp.

So yeah, it may seem like my Amendment is a direct response to Trump, but I’m also proposing allowing Don Jr. to serve six terms.

Congressional Representation Equality Amendment

I. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states by population, using half the population of the least populous state as the maximum size of a Congressional district.

Yes, this would increase the House of Representatives to (currently) 1,118 (1,155+ by 2020) members. But each would be representing only ~209,000 – ~289,000 people each, instead of the current ~578,000 – ~994,000. Yes, that’s right, Montana’s one Representative represents nearly twice as many people as Wyoming’s one Representative. By way of comparison, when the Constitution was ratified, Pennsylvania’s eight Representatives each represented roughly 54,000 people. Having fewer people per Representative means that Representative is more beholden to the people.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s puts a floor on the number of people a district can contain, that being 30,000. This would add a ceiling, affording the state with the smallest population two Representatives and using that as the maximum size. Currently, that would mean Wyoming’s ~578,000 people would have two Reps, each representing ~289,000 people. There would still be some disparity in district sizes, because the next smallest state, Vermont, has ~626,000 people, meaning it would get three seats each comprised of ~209,000 people.

Anti-Gerrymandering Amendment

I. All representative districting plans shall consist of: districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.

This one dovetails neatly into the previous one. Smaller, more competitive districts nationwide. This Amendment would also not simply concern itself with House representation, this would affect any representative (small r) districting plan – state assemblies and senates. The text is lifted almost verbatim from League of Women Voters, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the PA Supreme Court case that completely redrew the Congressional map in PA to eliminate the 2nd most gerrymandered map in the country.

Je suis un Occidental blanc privilégiée

It’s taken me a few days to coalesce my thoughts about the attacks in Paris, but in writing this I was really waiting for the inevitable reaction. Unfortunately, I could have written this days, or even months ago, and it would have been the same.

I can’t imagine what the people of Paris are going through. In many ways, this is a more horrifying attack than September 11th, or even the Charlie Hebdo attack.  This was not an attack on a specific target – even the Bataclan was not really a ‘target’ per se, other than having a high concentration of victims available.  9/11 was a strike against a symbol made by ultimately faceless killers, as everyone they directly terrorized died with them, and the overwhelming body count actually veers into Stalin’s ‘statistics’ category.  Charlie Hebdo was a directed strike against a singular group that the average person likely had a strong opinion on but didn’t think about often. The attack probably reinforced their opinion, and left them with the comforting notion that as long as they didn’t do what Charlie did, they’d be safe.

This attack, however, is the kind of attack I’d have been making against the west since 2001 were I a terrorist mastermind.  This is visceral, up front, random violence that leaves a lot of blood and even more witnesses.  This is the kind of attack that truly terrorizes a population.  It doesn’t give them the option of staying away from symbols or comforting themselves with notions that if they don’t poke the bear, it won’t eat them.  This is what terror looks like.

With all the outpourings of sympathy, for the changed user icons with French flag overlays, one would think that this is a rare occurrence.  I suppose it is, if you’re a privileged white Westerner.  But these kinds of attacks happen almost daily around the world. 147 people were murdered in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. 233 civilians were massacred over two days in Kobani, Syria in June. 145 people were murdered in a series of bombings in Borno State, Nigeria in September.  Those are just a few of the ‘larger’ attacks, but we almost never hear about them on the news, or they’re part of the background noise that’s quickly forgotten. I say this as an NPR listener – I remember all of those events being reported, but they were tucked into the regularity of other reporting and had a shelf life of maybe two days. In contrast, the Paris attacks became the only news on for hours, and is still being discussed.

We care now because the bodies are white, because they were enjoying music that we like when they died, because we saw first-hand accounts on social media. To put a fine point on it, the people who died were us. There’s a perception that everywhere that’s not speaking English is a dirt-poor third-world country where this sort of thing is an accepted part of life, but that is not the case.  People die in these attacks doing the same things the people in Paris died doing, and it gets broadcast on social media just the same.  We don’t see it, because we don’t speak Swahili or Arabic or Yoruba.

The death toll in Paris is tragic, but the real tragedy will truly unfold in the days and weeks to come. The mindset of France today should be familiar to anyone who remembers September 14th, 2001 in America.  We were numb, we were angry, we were ready to bomb anyone who didn’t give full-throated support to our desire to bomb everyone.  We were looking for enemies under every rock, and when we found people who looked like them, we didn’t stop to ask questions first. France is ready to lash out at Syrian refugees, even though those refugees are fleeing the very same violence.  They’ve come to Europe to escape incidents like this happening on a daily basis. What they’re finding is a a disturbingly familiar othering from voices on the right that has led, in the past, to some rather dark times.

Of course, France isn’t just focused on internal threats. Long the cultural symbol of hesitance in the face of danger, unwillingness to fight, or outright cowardice (a relatively undeserved stereotype), France is gnashing its teeth and vowing, in the words of President Hollande, a “war which will be pitiless” which sounds like the perfect response to point to when I have to write this again in 10 years. Hollande is George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero, vowing that Al-Qaeda would “will hear all of us soon.” 14 years later, we have a line of futility drawn straight from that pile of rubble to the attack in Paris, and it’s labelled “the Islamic State.”  This is a beast of our own making.  Hollande’s pitiless war is just going to be more of the same.  Wars of vengeance do not solve problems, they create them.  The U.S. war in Iraq created IS. IS has no borders, so attacking it means attacking Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan, and even breaking the military capacity of IS is effectively meaningless considering they weren’t rolling tanks into Paris.  Adding more death and destruction to the Middle East is the exact opposite of a solution to the problem, and it is fundamentally what IS wants.

The Islamic State is no stranger to massacring Muslims, as their targets are, by a wide margin, mostly people in their own neighborhood. The goal of this attack in Paris and others perpetrated in the West is to get the West to strike back.  Our own cultural insensitivity works both ways – they kill 140 people in Paris, and the average Kurd or Syrian doesn’t care in the same way we don’t care if 140 of them are killed.  Similarly, if the response is French war planes bombing targets up the street, or French soldiers going door-to-door, the people directly affected aren’t going to sit there calmly and accept that this is because of an attack 2,500 miles away.  All they’re going to see is France wrecking their town.  And eventually, an IS ideologue is going to sing sweetly to their children that they can get revenge, all they have to do is wear this vest and go to heaven.

So yes, I mourn for Paris.  But we need to stop acting like this is the only real terrorism, or that the responses we’re seeing are acceptable or even useful.  Because if we do, I’ll just be able to change a few names and post this again.  And again. And again.

 

The Decision-Making Process

One of my friends asked me recently “what makes you such a liberal?”  This was in response to a discussion we were having about capital punishment.  It was an honest question that deserved an honest answer.  I’ve had a few different answers over the years that tended toward snark, but I kind of surprised myself when I quickly came up with a solid answer that very concisely explains my political beliefs.

“A lot of examination,” I replied. “I look at things from the eyes of the lowest common denominator.”

On any given socioeconomic subject that I find myself in need of an opinion on, I ask myself two questions.  These might not always be conscious questions, but in retrospect, these two questions are the only ones that matter to me.

1) Who is hurt the most by various outcomes, and what do they think?

2) What does the science say?

His response was “Isn’t that just a matter of common sense at that point?” As Stephen Colbert has said, “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Let’s take the capital punishment example we were discussing.  Who does capital punishment hurt? The answer to that is easy: the poor and minorities.  The death penalty is applied so lopsidedly to people of color and people who can’t afford their own defense that it’s impossible to look at the numbers and not immediately see the correlation (unless, of course, you don’t want to see it).  The difference between life in prison and a needle is, almost universally, your ability to hire competent council, and the color of your skin.

Now, what does the science say?  It says that states with capital punishment have a higher murder rate than those without.  It’s not a deterrent.  If anything, it’s an aggravating circumstance.  These states don’t value life, why should their citizens?

Every issue I have an opinion on fits this framework, and almost every single time, I end up with what is typically held to be the “liberal” position.  Not necessarily the Democratic Party’s talking points, but what is commonly viewed as the far, but not necessarily radical, left.

Note that there’s no consideration to faith, religion or dogma there.  Science, and a concern for the most affected, are my guiding principles.  Almost everything I have a position on doesn’t affect me.  I’m a white, middle-aged, heterosexual male smack dab in the center of the middle class.  I am, demographically, about as close as you can get to the most privileged person that you can find (the only thing I’m missing is a few million dollars in annual income), so things like being racially profiled by the police, easy access to healthcare, and being paid only a percentage of the standard due to my plumbing aren’t things that directly affect me.  That being said, I know people that they do affect, and my concern for them becomes a general concern for everyone in that situation.

Get on it, Science.

An argument I’ve been making for a few years now is about a certain piece of technology that we should have by now but don’t.  It’s 2015, and we’ve launched a handful of human beings toward the moon and brought them back, harnessed the power of the atom to flash-murder a few hundred thousand people at once, and cured smallpox.  Science really has no limits.

No, I’m not talking about hoverboards or self-lacing shoes or even flying cars.

Driving along a windy, hilly road in the rain last night, I came across what is essentially my driving nightmare scenario.  I see, for just a split second, a deer on the road ahead in my lane, before the guy coming toward me also sees the deer. His reaction is to put on his high beams. The deer instantly vanishes, drowned out by the light I’m trying to see through.  If I’d blinked in that second, I would just have though it was some random jerk with his brights on, and plowed merrily into the deer that was apparently quite pleased to wander in traffic.

My point here is why did this scenario have to happen? With all of the advancement in vehicle technology – GPS navigation – fuel economy, impact safety, handling, etc. – why is it that we don’t have night vision?  Why do we need anything other than running lights for safety?  At night, in the rain, the lines on the road practically disappear.  Why doesn’t my windshield compensate for this?  I’d rather see that deer in green than have it come flying through my windshield.

And yeah, I understand cost.  But I can guarantee you that all of the aforementioned technology that we already have was developed at significant cost, yet is now considered standard.

So get on it, science.  Imagine all of the light pollution we could cut out if we didn’t have 250 million sets of headlights on the road.