There’s a movement afoot to repeal the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution which allows for the two US Senators from each state to be “elected by the people thereof.” As proof that the Tea Party wants to infringe on your democracy and make it easier for elite corporate interests to control Washington, they want to take away our vote and allow state legislators to secretly appoint Senators through back-room deals.
So apart from the obvious contradictions of claiming to be a populist, patriotic movement while attacking the popular vote and the democratic traditions of our nation, why else is repealing the 17th Amendment a bad idea?
One of the central themes of the Tea Party is the idea of returning to and honoring our Founding Father’s intent. Glenn Beck, who hosts Founders’ Friday every week on his show, recently evoked James Madison — who Beck called a “little cutie pie” — to make the case for repealing the 17th Amendment and taking American back to 1776.
Before we get too misty eyed and nostalgic, let’s remember what America was like in 1776 — and why the 17th Amendment was such a vital addition down the road.
The vaunted leaders at the Constitutional convention were all very wealthy, very white men and included the largest slave owners in the colonies. None of the Founders were very pro-equality on the subject of race, but some were more opposed to slavery than others. In particular, the North was more opposed to slavery than was the South. And the North had more people. So the South was worried that, if the new nation were just based on the popular vote alone, it would have less power and slavery would be abolished.
They created a Constitution to preserve slavery, with all sorts of compromises to appease the South and keep it — and slavery — in the union.
For instance, the North only wanted free persons to be counted for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives. But the South, which hand tons of slaves, wanted slaves to count too — even though they (like all black folks at the time) couldn’t vote. So the genius Founders agreed to count slaves as 3/5ths of a person, which gave the South more power in the House. This wasn’t changed until the 14th Amendment in 1868. (Maybe the Tea Party wants to repeal that one, too…)
The Senate was also created to give more power to the slavery-loving South — so less populous Southern states would have just as much say in the Senate — two seats — as more crowded Northern states. Why make Senator’s appointed by legislatures instead of elected by the people? Like the Electoral College — which unfortunately still remains — the point was to “insulate” politics from popular will. This was Madison’s idea of democracy. He said, “A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.” Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, by siding with Madison on this point and wanting Senators to be appointed, are siding with the idea of elite rule by a very few rather than true, popular democracy. The inspiration, by the way, for this original idea of the Senate was the House of Lords in England. While “the people” were represented in the House of Commons, the other branch were only appointed from wealthy landowners and elites — who would make sure that the interests of the people would never completely win out over the interests of the wealthy, privileged elite.
The Tea Party doesn’t want state laboratories of democracy. They want elite fiefdoms ruling every level of government. It’s no accident that the state legislators the Tea Party and Glenn Beck want to give more power to are disproportionately wealthy and white — um, just like the Founding Fathers. The 17th Amendment originated after exposes in the early 1900s showed already-well-to-do state legislators using their Senate appointment power to get even richer.
Now, let’s get one thing clear. I think the Founders are great. I think the Constitution is great. I think our nation is great. But not perfect! The Founders, actually, recognized this too. They created a living, breathing document for a living breathing nation — that could be changed as needed. It was that little cutie pie Madison, for instance, who wrote the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. (If we’re gonna start repealing amendments, let’s start with the 2nd instead!)
Madison said, “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” So the question is, who do you trust more? Do you trust the American people to directly elect our government? Or do you want to give more power to state legislators for them to potentially abuse? Do you want to believe that the American people can wisely change and carryout the governance of our nation, including amending the Constitution? Or do you think that a few wealthy elites from centuries ago still know absolutely best how our country should be run today?
Gee, I guess I put more faith in the American people than Glenn Beck or the Tea Party do.
A few hours ago, I joined over one hundred grassroots leaders from the Alliance to Develop Power as they stormed the Capitol office of Sen. Scott Brown to demand a meeting. When Brown was elected, he promised to be a “big tent Republican” and represent all of Massachusetts. Since his election, the Alliance to Develop Power and hundreds of other grassroots organizations have placed calls, sent letters and even held a press conference to request a meeting with Brown. Their requests have gone ignored.
So a hundred-plus everyday folks from Massachusetts, already in town to protest how big bank lobbyists are trying to kill financial reform and our economic recovery, paid a visit to their newly-elected Senator to ask him to live up to his “big tent” promises.
Here’s an exclusive video I shot from inside Scott Brown’s office as it’s taken over by protesters:
Here’s more on the action from a great piece on Congress.org:
The Alliance said they had requested a meeting with the lawmaker in writing but did not hear back. Chief of Staff Steven Schrage, who appeared shortly after the police, denied knowledge of such a letter. He advised the group to fill out an online form to request a meeting.
“We process our requests the same way for everybody,” he told them. “He’s not going to run around the country for people.”
That stirred up the crowd, but the group’s leaders simply held their fists up in the air — a prearranged signal to the others to remain quiet. Police asked everyone to step out while the leaders negotiated with Schrage.
Ultimately, the chief of staff agreed to set up a meeting within the next two weeks.
The Massachusetts voters who demonstrated in Sen. Brown’s office — representatives of the Alliance to Develop Power in Springfield, MA — noted that while on the campaign trail, Brown promised to fight against big bank bailouts but as Senator has acted in lockstep with the financial industry. Most recently, Sen. Brown voted against the Brown-Kaufman safe banking amendment, which would break up the big banks and benefit average Americans and the economy. Who’s in that tent of yours, Senator Brown?
We’ll see if Scott Brown lives up to his campaign promises, meets with the Alliance to Develop Power and other grassroots leaders — and actually stands on the side of Main Street who elected him, not just Wall Street lining his pockets. His voters are clearly watching…
Just when you thought it was safe to look at your 401(k) balance again, a new report from National People’s Action and the Campaign for America’s Future reveals that the pro-big bank deregulators who ruined our economy in government are now working for K Street lobby firms pressing to make the damage even worse.
The kicker is, as much as we might like to blame this mess solely on Republicans, it’s Democrats who picked up Reagan’s baton of deregulation. Robert Rubin and the Clinton Administration laid the groundwork for Wall Street to swallow Main Street whole. And now the top K Street lobbying firm doing big banks’ bidding is not run by a former Tom Delay or Mitch McConnell aid — it’s run by Steve Elmendorf, former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt. And Elmendorf’s team includes former top staffers to Democrats including Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Paul Sarbanes.
Both parties should be ashamed. Unlike Arizona cops, the revolving door between K Street and Capitol Hill knows no color. Red, blue, elephant, donkey — come one, come all to the K Street carnival! Whatever ethical guilt you might feel will be more than offset by the generous pay package!
Now, beltway lobbying is generally a smarmy enterprise, but it’s particularly vile in the case of the six biggest banks scrambling to maintain their “too big to fail” protections at the expense of taxpayers. Just for perspective, the American Cancer Society — which lobbies Congress for funding to fight cancer — employs just ten lobbyists. To fight all cancer. Ten lobbyists total. Citigroup alone has 55 “revolving-door lobbyists” who came from Congress or other federal agencies — in addition to all the other lobbyists working for the bank. JPMorgan Chase has 32 revolving-door lobbyists; Morgan Stanley has 19; Wells Fargo 14; Bank of America 12. And on top of that they pay millions to lobbying firms and trade associations that also have lobbyists (a large proportion of those also the revolving-door type).
The ten American Cancer Society lobbyists seek to alleviate cancer. The hundreds of big bank lobbyists want to spread their cancerous greed that is eating away at our economy.
On Monday, May 17, thousands of everyday Americans from across the country will take to K Street to condemn the cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington. Lobbyists and Congress are in bed with the banks, but the American people are the ones getting screwed. It’s time to shut the revolving door, press Congressional candidates to stop taking contributions from big banks and do what’s right for taxpayers, not Wall Street.
Hasn’t our broken system broken enough families already? Corruption and greed had their chance and only made our economy worse. Let’s hold Congress accountable, cut the cord to Wall Street and K Street and get our economy working for working people.
op-ed originally published April 28, 2010 in Christian Science Monitor
In late 2007, Oklahoma legislators enacted what was then the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law. Mere months later, state Sen. Harry Coates – the only Republican legislator to vote against the measure – said, “You really have to work hard at it to destroy our state’s economy, but we found a way. We ran off the workforce.”
Perhaps the only upside of Arizona’s new, even harsher anti-immigrant legislation is for Oklahoma, where immigrants and citizens may flee as Arizona’s economy crumbles in the aftermath of its hateful legislative action.
Oklahoma HB 1804, passed in November 2007, cut off undocumented immigrants from state services and made it a crime for anyone, including citizens, to provide transport or assistance to undocumented immigrants.
One study suggests the bill led to an estimated 50,000 people fleeing Oklahoma and a 1.3 percent drop in economic output statewide. As a result, Oklahoma may well have incurred $1.8 billion in economic losses, just as it, like the rest of the nation, was bracing for recession.
That’s a steep price to pay for what even some proponents of the law have acknowledged is a rarely enforced, mostly symbolic measure that has the primary impact of creating a “culture of fear” for the state’s Latino community, both legal and nonlegal residents, causing not only economic harm but psychological pain as well.
It is this culture of fear that connects Oklahoma and Arizona. Both are states littered with crumbling farms and factories and aging populations who feel that any prospect of prosperity is passing them by.
But instead of building a 21st century global economy that works for everyone, Oklahoma and Arizona imagine that kicking out new immigrants will somehow turn the clock back 30 or 40 years, to some heyday that never really existed but, more to the point, could never exist again in our current context.
Immigrants who are stimulating our economy now come from Mexico and the Philippines, not Germany and Poland. Our greatest economic prospects lie in information technology, not corn or manufacturing. Exurbs and urban renewal lure young people to the coasts more than ever. But the reality is, that is nothing new.
Forty years ago, folks in Arizona and Oklahoma were complaining that the immigrants weren’t Irish or Scandinavian, and Tucson and Oklahoma City were luring kids from the countryside. Change is unavoidable. What we can avoid is reacting with irrational fear and scapegoating and hate.
Arizona’s new law will undoubtedly cause even greater economic losses in that state, given that it’s not only harsher, but Arizona has a larger immigrant population and the law is receiving greater national scrutiny. Kristen Jarnagin, spokesperson for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, noted that the state’s significant tourism industry “is certain to experience the unintended consequences of the economic backlash” from the passage of the new law, SB 1070. Already, immigrant rights groups and allies are calling for boycotts of the state.
In 2008, Arizona tourism brought $18.5 billion in revenues into the state. Even a slight dent in that income will be deleterious.
Arizonans are understandably focused on the need for immigration reform. The state is the main port of entry for new immigrants and, as in all states, the recession is putting financial limits on already-strained public services.
Arizona is stepping in to fill the gap left by the failure of Congress to pass workable immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship and moves us all forward together.
Extremist and hateful as Arizona’s law is, it may unfortunately be just the beginning of reactionary state lawmaking if Congress continues to stall.
The negative lessons that Oklahoma has learned, and which Arizona is about to learn, may not be enough to counter fanatical frustration in the face of federal inaction.
If you read the comments on local news websites and blogs where some angry and vocal native Arizonans express support for SB 1070, the professed need for self-defense often overshadows common human decency.
“If someone breaks in to your home, you have every right to shoot them dead,” wrote one poster on the Tucson Fox News affiliate’s website. “The USA is our home, why don’t we have the same right? Sounds extreme, but nothing seems to be working.”
But other than being downright hateful and inhuman, Oklahoma already learned the real impact of this attitude: You only end up shooting yourself in the foot.
Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on fraud charges filed against Goldman Sachs and conservative opposition to clearly much-needed financial regulation. Brilliant (Stewart, that is — not the Wall St. crooks and Republican liars)!
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|These F@#king Guys – Goldman Sachs|
And if you never saw my video exposing how Goldman Sachs was betting on death in its “death bond” derivative scheme, there’s no time like the present:
In all the partisan jockeying around whether or not to ban some or all Congressional earmarks, a small detail has been overlooked—the fact that Congress gives away some $1.7 billion per year in completely unaccountable, uncompetitive, sweetheart deals to private industry. Here we are still bickering about the $100 billion-over-10-years price tag to give health care to over 30 million uninsured Americans and fix our ailing system, but pols on both sides of the aisle have nary blinked an eye in handing out a tenth of that, without public debate, to defense contractors and developers.
With families across the country suffering from the downturn and tightening their belts—and pleading for even the most meager of unemployment benefits and other aid programs to be extended—Congress handed bags of cash to for-profit businesses in contracts based not on, say, comparative estimates about how many jobs would be created versus other potential projects but, blatantly, based on personal friendships, payback for campaign contributions and promises to base some work in the Congressperson’s home state or district.
When you really look at how the legislative sausage gets made in our United States Congress, it’s enough to turn you into an anarcho-vegan…
Is it really any wonder that the supposedly superiorly efficient and cost-effective for-profit health insurance companies are whining like babies about the prospect of actually having to compete with a publicly-funded health insurance option? Of course they prefer non-competitive handouts and monopolies. What smart businessperson wouldn’t?
In February, the Justice Department launched an investigation into five members (Dems and Reps) of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee for allegedly accepting $840,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for funneling $2.4 million in federal monies to just one defense contractor, 21st Century Systems. The charges were dropped, but the specter (and evidence) lingers. It’s too bad that all those poor folks without health insurance can’t scrape together a few hundred grand to line the pockets of those Members of Congress who are holding back health care reform.
In the mid-20th century, as New Deal economic investments in public spending and, well, the public in general were making Americans happier, healthier, better-educated and generally better off, and as surging social movements were starting to question even more deeply the pro-corporate economic policies of the past that had ruined regular people and ruptured the common good, Milton Friedman and his band of pro-corporate economists quickly stopped using the phrase laissez faire capitalism and switched to free market capitalism. Genius! Free market, after all, sounds like we’re taking the cuffs off the lean and mean market machine to let it fairly compete in the economic ring. Laissez faire, on the other hand, sounds… um… lazy. Lazy capitalists. And Freedman would be damned if that image of greedy robber barons who sit and get fat off the hard work of others would be permanently sealed in the public imagination. As long as you call it the free market, the illusion of fair effort masks the reality of backroom deals and biased handouts.
The reality is the free in free markets stands for free money. From our pockets.
Americans got angry about the bank bailouts, but not angry enough. There’s a deeper problem afoot in our nation, a problem cemented in our economic policies, defended by our politicians, exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to even further open the floodgates of corporate money into politics. We are a nation by, of and for corporations.
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson prayed, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Almost 200 years later, our work is still cut out for us.
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