Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


Vestiges of Slavery

If you define slavery as the condition in which a person can be bought and sold by others and that corporations are persons according to USA law, then slavery in the US is alive and well.  This idea was introduced to me in the book “We The People” by Buck and Villines.

A traditional for-profit corporation is owned by its stockholders.  These stockholders, through their agents, the board of directors of the corporation, are the declared owners of the corporation.  The CEO may have lots of influence, may even be one of or a major stockholder, but he does not own the corporation in his role as CEO, only as he or she might own stock, capital rights, in the corporation.  The board does not own the corporation even though some or all of them own stock.  They are owners only in the proportion of capital, stock, they own.  The board is elected by the capital investors at large to act in their interests, usually limited to their financial interests, in growing the capital value of their stock and in the dividends that might accrue from profits proportional to their capital interest in the corporation.

Thus, in this regard, the stockholders are the true owners and collectively have the right to direct (command) and possibly sell the corporation — which in the US at least is declared to have the property of personhood.  This is the classic definition of slavery.  Of course, we don’t have empathy for the corporation as a person per se. Stock holders might, but usually don’t have empathy with those that define the corporation through their creative capacity or their day to day labor.

Given this strange fact of the existence of slavery of a corporation because a corporation by law has the characteristic of personhood and entitled to all the rights of such personhood, it seems to shed questions as to this apparent disconnect with reality.  I would suggest that what is wrong here is the idea that a corporation has in fact, in reality, the property of personhood.

Interesting to think about?  Maybe it can become the basis for some change in the personhood of corporations?


What about Fossil Fuel?

Think about it.

There is considerable risk to the consumption of fossil fuels since it has been well established that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, a major threat to civilization on Earth. The fossil fuels in the ground that have not been extracted represent a asset on the books of major fossil fuel corporations. Even in a declining demand in the United States, there is a rush via fracking and other extraction methods to get as much as is possible right now. This poses a problem. What do you do with it?

The current effort is to send these fossil fuels over seas to support growing economies there. There is also considerable push back from citizens because of the real likely outcome that burning all these reserves can contribute to increased CO2 and exacerbate the climate problems we face.

One way to put a cap on the speed of this effort and reduce the climate impact is to prohibit the export of fossil fuels from the United States. If there were such a prohibition, then only the fossil fuels needed to meet demand in the United States would be extracted because there is no good way to store the vast amounts current efforts portend. This would have the additional benefit of extending into the indefinite future the benefits of fossil fuels which are used for purposes other than burning in generators and automobiles. If in addition, there was a growth in the use of alternative ways to generate electricity with wind and solar the US demand for fossil fuels would continue to decrease.

There are advantages to the United States. First, we could become totally independent of foreign sources. Second, it would extend the potential long term value of this source of primary wealth. It also postpones the impact of excessive CO2 in the world climate system.

So, I say: Prohibit the exportation of fossil fuels from the United States.


The Case Against GMO

Why are the corporations so against GMO labeling?

The answer to this question is subtle. It begins with why GMO crops are created in the first place. As it turns out to nobody’s surprise it is economic, not for the benefit of the consumer. If farm products can be produced that lower the cost of production by modifying the nature of the produce itself, in theory and practice it ought to be done. That is the basis of GMO.

For an example, consider Monsanto’s Round Up ready GMO crops. Using these mono-culture GMO seeds a farmer can apply the Round Up herbicide to reduce the weeds and as a result increase the yield per acre. The GMO crops have been engineered so that they are not killed by the herbicide while the weeds are. What is worth pointing out is that this GMO is designed to make money for Monsanto and the farmer. However, the GMO is not made in a way that the consumer gains any direct benefit.

This economic agenda does not seem to include making the product more healthy for the population as a whole. It does not make the nutritional value greater. In fact, one has to question whether the food produced through the application of toxic chemicals is in fact safe. There are historical experiences that should inform us, like the use of DDT.

So, if the only value is economic, mega-corporations naturally oppose any calling attention to the GMO process. Labeling would certainly do that. So, the corporations go all out to oppose labeling because, if we all knew where GMO was being employed for which there was no health benefit and no money savings benefit for the consumer, we might become more aware and less inclined to use GMO products. GMO benefits the corporations, but not the consumers.

Every technology ever developed had unintended consequences, some good, many bad.  For example, in the case of Roundup Ready Crops, we see a number of instances.  Increased resistance of weeds to Round Up which will require a more toxic application.  We also see GMO crops “infecting” non GMO crops indicating we are not in control of the outcomes of GMO.  It has resulted in suing farmers who through no fault of theirs, find GMO products in their fields with the effect of driving some non-GMO producers out of business and us out of choice in the market.  Labeling is an honest way to help us track what is going on and give us choices in our food purchasing.


How can we find a balance between the government collection of all kinds of data on every person that seems to violate our sense of privacy and a perceived need to collect data for use to reduce the threat of terrorism?  I have an idea of how this could be more acceptable.

The perceived threat for the average Joe is that innocent coincident of data about us can be misinterpreted to point to illegal activity and used in court or a plea bargain to establish guilt for something for which we are not guilty.  Furthermore, because of a need for secrecy, we might be denied access to the full set of data or how it was obtained in order to defend ourselves.  Yet, it is reasonable that the ability to comb through data from many sources can be useful in discovering planning for illegal activities, even to prevent terrorist actions that could harm many people.

The fact is, we have demonstrated over and over that we do not have a problem with collection and mining of data about ourselves.  Most people willingly provide all sorts of data and information about themselves that corporate interests use to market to us.  We are happy enough to get a discount by using a store credit card or the convenience in general of using credit and debit cards.  On line commercial transactions would be nearly impossible without them.  Although we might complain about pop-up adds or Amazon’s analysis of our purchasing habits, for example, we still take advantage of modern technology.  So how could we strike a balance.

I would propose that restrictions on how collected data might be used would go a long way to alleviating our concerns about government being in the data collection business.  The restriction I would propose is to prohibit retrospective data to be presented in a court of law.  If the government wants to collect and use data to prosecute a “innocent until proven guilty” person, they would need to go to a judge or grand jury and get a warrant to prospectively collect court admissible data on  a justifiable basis.  They might use retrospectively collected data to get the warrant, but that retrospective data could not be used in prosecuting a case, only data collected after a warrant was issued.

What this would mean is that you and I need not be concerned about the widespread collection of data in that it could not be used by the government to retrospectively manipulate the information to determine our guilt.  They might use it in an interrogation, but could not use it as evidence in court.  They could not mine collected data to incriminate a person they had in custody as proof of guilt, only data that was collected specifically after an individual, not all of us, was suspected and for which a warrant was granted.

Lets assume for a moment that suspicion develops about one or more people.  Being able to go back and look at data that has been collected can be of great help in assessing a possible threat.  It is this “going back” that seems to me to be most dangerous.  That would mean that all historical data, data prior to a warrant, the data that led to going to a judge would not be admissible.  It would be useful in protecting us, but preserve our innocence until proven guilty.

What do you think?

Cecil


Our Constitution is Not a Religion

The current debates about guns in the U.S. have the flavor of religious believers.  Owning a gun or many guns of any type is a right guaranteed by the second amendment to the constitution.  The U.S. Constitution and its amendments are treated like Holy Writ.  The founding fathers are revered as profits of democracy.  There is even a WWJD, What Would Jefferson Do, attitude.  What is never questioned is whether or not we should change the constitution.  What makes this strange is the fact that the right to own guns was not a part of the original constitution, but in fact one of the first ten amendments, a bill of rights,  to “fix” perceived errors or omissions in the original constitution. It is a fact of record that our Supreme Court has over its existence had different opinions regarding the interpretations of various articles and amendments to the constitution.  Were I a historian of constitutional law, I would have the ability to enumerate the many interpretations given to the constitution and its amendments.  There may be arguments, and some are ongoing arguments, about the meaning of constitutional elements but I want to address some of the more obvious “errors” in the constitution and its amendments.  If you object to the idea that these are “errors”, then you would have to allow that some decisions made in the light of circumstances in the early years of our nation experienced changes in the later years.

In the twelfth amendment to the constitution, it was determined that the framers constructed the election of the president and vice president incorrectly.  The twelfth amendment declared that Article 2, section 1, clause 3 were no longer valid.  They were replaced by a new way of electing the president and vice president in 1803.

Jefferson was known to have slaves.  Yet, in 1865, as an outcome of the Civil War, this was determined to be illegal by the adoption of the 13th amendment.  Here is yet another case where it was determined that the times had changed and a new way of relating was in order.

The 14th amendment declared former slaves, born in the United States were citizens of the United States.  Again, in 1865, the Supreme Court was overruled by the 14th amendment.  Even the Supreme Court can get it wrong and the people rise to change the constitution.  Today, there is another civil action in the works to clarify the 14th amendment because again, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people on the basis of this amendment.  Many citizens disagree and there is a movement to fix that Supreme Court interpretation.  The constitution is clearly a living document.

When the states were interpreting existing laws to allow them to discriminate at the voting booth, once again, in 1850, our understanding of the constitution had to be altered by an amendment.  Amendment 15 guaranteed citizens of the United States could not have their right to vote abridged.  That women were not considered to be citizens was not addressed, something that today we would consider outrageous.

In 1913 the 16th amendment invented a new power to the federal government, the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes of the citizens of the nation.  Passed by the states, this amendment expanded the sources of revenue, a provision not created by our founding fathers.

The election of senators as proscribed in Article 1 of the constitution was considered obsolete and was changed by amendment 17  also passed in 1913.  Times changed, opinions changed, our national agreement about how to go about electing Senators was changed.

One of the more interesting changes to our constitution occurred in the 18th amendment creating a prohibition against all enterprises supporting the use of alcohol.  This occurred in 1919.  It made no changes to prior laws.  It simply attempted to institute a new code of social conduct within the United States. In 1920, women got the right to vote through the inclusion of the 18th amendment.

Since the 15th amendment passed in 1850 former male slaves gained the right to vote.  We changed our minds in 1850.  Now we changed our minds about the right of women to vote.  Neither of these “rights” were considered by our founding fathers to be reasonable things to add to the Bill of Rights amendments to the constitution.  Times changed, our attitudes changed, our laws also changed.

The 20th amendment recognized a weakness in the constitution.  The amendment determined the appropriate time for the President and Vice President to take office.  It dealt with the issue of succession giving Congress authority to make laws.  It was passed in 1933.

The 21st amendment noted that the nation had made an error in passing the 18th amendment.  The 21st amendment was repealed!  Taken off the books, so to speak.  Revoked.  It demonstrated that any part of the constitution could be absolutely changed.

Skipping over several other modifications to our agreed upon laws of civil society through amendments 22, 23, 24, and 25, I note that in amendment 26, passed in 1971 which prohibited states from setting the age for voting to more than 18 years of age.  This was a new understanding that grew out of the Vietnam war activism of citizens that were called to serve in the military but had no voice in their government.

So here is the point.  The Constitution of the United States is not Holy Writ.  It changes in response to changes in opinion.  Sometimes the changes are swift.  Sometimes they are slow.  Sometimes their are significant difference in opinion.  Sometimes the old guard holds on tightly to their power and change is slow and hard work.  But things can change when sufficiently motivated people demand the changes needed to bring civil society into alignment with the significant portions of the citizens.

So, how close are we to repealing the 2nd amendment?  It begins with the idea that we should not be fighting the religious zealots who want to simply interpret the 2nd amendment as an absolute right to own any kind of gun they want.  It begins when we let go of 18th century fear of invasion from the powerful British.   I think now is the time to change the conversation from “THE PERCEIVED RIGHT TO OWN A GUN” to what is the most beneficial, what is the greater good for our society and REPEAL THE 2ND AMENDMENT.  If we begin the movement to repeal the 2nd amendment, the discourse will have to change.  No longer can supporters of the powers assumed under the amendment be defended on the basis of it being in the constitution because that is the discussion itself.  The discussion and arguments will have to be about the merits of having the right at all.  What is the moral and civil society argument in favor of no control over lethal weapons capable of mass killing of each other? Lets get started.  Sounds like an interesting debate when religion and Holy Writ are taken out of the formula.

 


I am not going to beat around the bush.  It is time to repeal the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why argue about what the original framers of the constitution meant?  Why debate like our founding constitution has never been changed? It is not Holy Writ.  God did not dictate it.  Humans did and we can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or we can simply clarify what most of us want, better control of the instruments of mayhem in our society.  We can fix what is broken.  We can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or create a new one that makes it clear there is no absolute right for anyone to own a weapon capable of mass murder.

I think if we consider the issue of gun control in terms of how to change the constitution instead of how to interpret it, we could have a much more rational debate.  Does giving everyone the right to own guns that have the capacity to kill many people at once what we want for our society?  (Today, that is answered by referring to the 2nd Amendment.  Why aren’t we talking about changing the Amendment?) Do we want a society with more guns, even good guys with good intentions (and you know what they say about the road to hell) owning guns because there are bad guys with assault weapons because there is no way to prevent that in a society full of guns?

You can’t stop insanity by doing the same thing over and over which has never worked.  Lets face it, the 2nd Amendment might have been reasonable for a paranoid nation at its birth.  It made sense in the late 1700’s.  But times have changed, guns have changed, the world has changed.  It is time to replace the 2nd Amendment.  We certainly have made other changes to our constitution to rectify injustices created by our founding fathers.  Lets change this one!

Are you up for that fight?

Cecil Denney


This week, the National Rifle Association made an interesting proposal to protect school students by posting an armed security officer in each school building in the United States.  In theory, this should provide a deterrence to anyone who might contemplate another assault like the one in Newton, Connecticut.   Not only do I have doubts about the logic of this, but I seriously doubt that the NRA made a serious proposal.  It was more of a political proposal designed to deflect the discussion away from gun control.

So, lets put this suggestion to a test.  Lets assume this is a good idea for a moment.  The question is how it should be funded.  My suggestion is to fund it with taxes on guns and ammunition, sufficient to fund the approximately $80,000 per school such a proposal would cost to staff and administer.   We could also assign a special tax on those who manufacture and sell guns.  Note, I am not proposing that we disallow guns as guaranteed in the second amendment to the US Constitution.

Second Amendment: “A well regulated Milita, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Rather, I am suggesting a way for those who own guns to contribute in a meaningful way to gun safety for all citizens including those who choose not to exercise this “right” including children.

Now ammunition is a consumable, so it can insure a continued flow of revenue.  However, to tax it alone or depend on it alone to fund the security guards, it would need to be excessively large.  A gun is relatively permanent, so although a tax on the sale of a gun would help, it too would be too small a revenue stream that would need to be supplied over time.  Similarly, a special tax or license fee to sell guns would not generate sufficient revenue.  What is required is a special “personal property” tax on gun ownership that would be paid annually by all gun owners.  Surely, given the number of gun owners in the United States, this could be a modest tax sufficient with the others mentioned above to fund the revenue for school security officer programs.

So, given it is the NRA’s suggestion that all schools deserve to be protected from irrational gun owners/users, it is time for the NRA to step up to the funding of its proposal.  Perhaps the NRA itself would be willing to make the first contribution to the national campaign to raise the funds through a special tax on gun ownership.

 

Exceptionalism

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Economics, Morality, Philosophy, Politics

Attention has been drawn to the American sense of exceptionalism.  It has its roots in the very founding of the United States of America in the late 1700’s.  Of particular interest is the pedestal of extreme respect that is given to the founding fathers.  This sense of their unique and exceptional  contribution manifest itself in the way they are quoted to support divergent views of what is meant by various statements in the constitution of the US.

It is true that their creation of a nation based in law, respectful of science and independent from specific religious control was unique, a significant experiment in rule by and for the people.  We have, to date, tried to honor their intent to create a system where change takes place in an orderly process.  The process involves amendments to the imperfect original construction of the constitution thereby making it adaptive to future trends, aspirations, and knowledge.  In this sense, what they did was exceptional.

No other nation is likely to experience this same explosive development, certainly not in the same way.  One reason lies in the exceptional aspect of history, the discovery of a virgin land populated with natives ill suited to protect themselves against the diseases and tools of the “white” man.  They were unable to protect themselves, their social order, and the wealth of the nature that sustained them against overwhelming odds, pure greed and avarice.  Our founding fathers were complicit beneficiaries of their superior advantage and supposedly superior wisdom in “the ways of the world.”  In this regard, they were certainly not exceptional.

So, I see several problems in blindly accepting their exceptionalism.  First of all, they were risk takers who had abandoned their native lands to live in the possibilities and promises of this new virgin land.  They were exceptional in comparison to the known world of humans who were satisfied to live and die in their native homelands.  They were given exceptional opportunities to carve out of a comparative wilderness something new and original.  They were given a “tabula rosa“, a blank slate on which to design the relationships between humans.  From a modern perspective, they missed the boat in several areas, slavery and women’s rights.

Rather than take this to excruciating detail, I will simply note that they were regular, well read, some religious, some not, regular guys with an exceptional opportunity and some guts to put their lives and fortunes on the line to protect their special interests.  We do ourselves a disservice by seeing them as too exceptional for in doing so, we diminished ourselves, limit our own vision, do not see ourselves as capable of the intellectual work of critically thinking about not just what they were meaning, but what they started should mean today.  We may not realize that we too, given the exceptional environment might just have been their equal.  In this time of challenges on many fronts, we should see ourselves as capable of great things, of able to meet great challenges, of being equally exceptional human beings.  But, we should not see ourselves or our nation as justifying any act, moral or immoral, on the basis of Exceptionalism.  We do not deserve special treatment or special rights just because our history gave us exceptional opportunities and resources.  Rather, we ought to feel responsibility for exceptionally decent, and generous behavior, not through war, but through humble recognition of our unique good fortunate.