Updating America’s Operating System

The United States Constitution has been an enduring document of the “Great American Experiment” since the 1790’s when it was drafted. It has been amended 27 times in the last 230 years, which averages out to an amendment every 8.5 years. Considering how little the amendments actually amend, that’s an extremely slow rate of change, and it hasn’t accelerated. The most recent one, the 27th Amendment, passed in 1992 and states “Delays laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election of representatives.” That didn’t really move the needle much on contemporary issues, human rights, privacy, etc.

The rate of change of society, on the other hand, has accelerated since the Age of Industrialization. That acceleration of the rate of change is understood to be exponential, meaning that the rate of change will be greater in the next decade than it was in the last. Clearly, the US Constitution has not kept up. America needs to update its operation system.

Below are some thoughts I have on the topic, in no particular order.

Voting Rights

We clearly have a problem when a party or candidate runs on an anti-voting strategy. Voting rights are at the core of democracy.

I propose a Voting Rights Act that guarantees the right to vote for all American citizens over the age of 16. Yes, I believe young people should have a voice and should participate in the process. The Electoral College should be abolished. The popular vote determines the winners of elections. Voting systems are standardized nationally, not state-by-state. Every voter is automatically registered and mailed a ballot. Voting is all by mail, because it works, it’s safe, and it ensures access for all voters. The Voting Rights Act would outlaw vote tampering, voter suppression, voter intimidation, and election misinformation with swift consequences for violators. Zero tolerance for voter suppression.

I believe that high levels of election participation are healthy for a democracy. I like the Australian method of a small tax for not voting. They enjoy turnout of over 90% in every election.

Fair Elections

Our elections are a mess, rife with propaganda, disinformation and corruption. We need an Election Integrity act that would outlaw dark money and SuperPACS and apply criminal consequences for candidates lying about one another and spreading disinformation. Our elections should be serious periods of inquiry into the visions and positions of candidates and parties, not dumbed-down reality shows filled with spurious lies. Campaigns should be publicly funded with no external money allowed into the process. Political ads must be fact-checked by an independent non-partisan Election Commission before being released.

Outlaw Gerrymandering

Creatively drawing up district lines to ensure one party dominates another is a form of corruption that has been practiced historically by both parties. In the past 20 years, it has been rolled out as a national strategy by the Republican Party, a primary reason why they continue to hold power even as the nation as the whole is majority Democratic and more progressive than government representatives would indicate. This form of corruption and election cheating must end.

Gerrymandering must be outlawed and politicians and political operatives must not be allowed to draw districts. All representative offices, including state houses and senates and the US House of Representatives, should be drawn up by mathematical algorithms based on population distribution.

Put the Presidency in Check

Regardless of your politics, the last four years have exposed a number of vulnerabilities in the checks and balances of power in American government. One of those vulnerabilities is too much power concentrated in the Office of the Presidency. We have seen what can happen when one individual with no regard to the law or to morals or ethics holds that much power, compromising our legal and watchdog checks and balances and damaging national security.

I propose the President should no longer have the power to appoint the Attorney General or any judges. The Justice Department, the FBI and Federal Courts including the Supreme Court need to have a firewall between them and the other branches of government. The President would also not be immune to legal prosecution. To protect against frivolous lawsuits, legal actions would be filtered through a fully independent Department of Justice (more on that below).

Balance the Senate

The Senate is inherently unrepresentative. The entire concept of “State’s Rights” is an outdated artifact of the old fight between the Union and Confederacy, which is long since gone and has no relevancy in today’s world. Consider this: Each Senator in California represents roughly 20 million people, but each Senator in Wyoming represents roughly 290,000 people. That means in the Senate, 1 vote in Wyoming = 69 votes in California. Obviously, grossly unfair and undemocratic.

I propose the Senate should be redrawn into regional areas based on population, not state lines. Senate districts would be drawn by mathematical algorithms, not politicians.

Expand the States

“No taxation without representation” was a popular slogan during the American Revolution, and it applies to several territories who have no (or limited) representation at the federal level, or the benefits of statehood. The following territories should be given full statehood: Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington D.C., American Micronesia (American Somoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), and the First People State (made up of all Native American Reservations). This would ensure that every America citizen has representation at both state and federal levels.

De-Politicize the Supreme Court and Federal Courts

The Supreme Court of the United States is supposed to serve as a Third Pillar of the US Government, a pillar of stability that is supposed to be above the partisan fray of politics. Clearly the current system of the President selecting SCOTUS and the Senate confirming said nominee has turned the court into political vaudeville theater.

I propose a Federal Courts system that has a firewall between it and the other branches of government. Candidates for federal judicial vacancies must apply for the positions, be screened by search committees, and go through a normal hiring process that you would find in other industries, with public disclosure of all documents submitted by the applicant for transparency. Most judges would serve clerkships at the courts before applying. Supreme Court Justices should rise through the Federal Courts, and when the Supreme Court has a vacancy, other federal judges would nominate and vote on candidates. This would keep the judiciary brand completely independent from the legislative and executive branches.

The Supreme Court should be expanded to 19 members, which would help to moderate and diversify court opinions. Supreme Court Justices should have 12 year term limits, a good balance between stability and fresh blood. A termed-out SCOTUS judge may return to the lower Federal Courts.

Liberate the Department of Justice and FBI

The past four years have demonstrated the kind of rampant lawlessness that can occur with a corrupt president and an even more corrupt Attorney General. You can’t trust the coyotes to guard the chicken coop.

I propose that the Department of Justice be moved under the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. The Attorney General is not appointed by the president but is instead hired by the Justice Department. They report to the Supreme Court but are independent to pursue justice in accordance with the law.

Similarly, the FBI should be moved under the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. Similar to the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI would be hired by the FBI. The Justice Department and Federal Courts need to be able to physically enforce laws, and currently they can’t.

Take for example an incident in 1832: The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Georgia could not intrude on Cherokee lands. President Jackson ignored the Supreme Court ruling and continued with the forceful removal of Cherokee from their lands. What followed was the “Trail of Tears”, one of the most vicious and horrific acts of genocide in human history. The Supreme Court’s ruling had no teeth in the face of a racist and unlawful president.

In my proposal, the Justice Department with the FBI would have the power and authority to investigate the president, to enforce court orders if necessary, and to prosecute and arrest the president if necessary. No one is above the law.

Require Qualifications for Politicians and Cabinet Posts

Would you choose a doctor who didn’t have a medical degree or was a “medical outsider”? Probably not. So why do we try to glorify political candidates who have no experience or expertise?

Political offices should have job descriptions like any other job with high levels of responsibility. Amongst the basic qualifications should be a masters degree from an accredited institution of higher education or a bachelor’s degree and 5 years experience working in public policy. They should also be able to pass a citizenship test and US Constitution test. A bi-partisan Election Commission could screen candidates and administer the tests. Government, legislation and public policy are serious matters. We’re facing huge challenges this decade, and our politicians need to be highly qualified.

I would apply the same standards to cabinet positions. The president can nominate cabinet positions, but they first have to be screened and meet those basic qualifications customized for the specific needs of each position.

Reform Corporations

Corporations have long been ruled to have the same rights as individual people in the United States, and this has been a enormous source of corruption in politics. This is a legal and logical mistake, and does harm to society. Corporations are not people. We may need a constitutional amendment to explicitly say as such.

Moreover, there are deficiencies in the way that corporate charters are structured in the United States, and one of those deficiencies is in the lack of ethical accountability. I propose amending the corporate charter to essentially make every corporation in America into a Benefit Corporation or B-Corp. If you’re not familiar with B-Corps, read more here.

Elevate Science and Technology

Whenever I see the billionaire CEO’s of tech companies testifying to Congress, the most glaring thing that stands out is the complete ignorance of our politicians about the most fundamental workings of technology, and in a larger sense basic principles of science. Technology is developing at an exponential rate, and it’s a prime driver of global culture. The biggest challenges we face including climate change will require all of our scientific knowledge and ingenuity to solve. Having a government of noobs puts us all at tremendous peril.

I propose an independent government agency, the Department of Science and Technology. Its role would be to serve as the government’s brain and its rational conscience. It would conduct research, conduct risk assessment, make recommendations, and be a watchdog. When a tech giant CEO is testifying before Congress, a scientist or engineer from the DST would be doing the questioning because they would understand issues of digital privacy, cyber security, disinformation bots, algorithmic bias, etc. etc.

The DST would write and execute America’s Climate Action Plan and COVID-19 Response Plan, independently and based on science.

Abolish the Second Ammendment

Ooh, I know this is controversial, but it shouldn’t be. The Second Amendment was written at a time that America had no centralized military, and the most lethal weaponry was a musket and cannon. It’s outdated, wildly misinterpreted, and mostly just irrelevant in today’s world. If you still think “an armed society is a safe society” (a favorite slogan of the pro-gun lobby) go check out Yemen and Afghanistan and get back to me.

I support the Western European model of shooting clubs. Your guns stay at the shooting club, and you can go shoot them there. But you can’t have guns in your home or open carry, and you can’t just walk into a Walmart and buy an AR-15. To put it bluntly, America needs to get over its immature obsession with guns and violence. Before the pandemic, there was a mass shooting in America every week, and that’s just unacceptable.

There is no place for private gun ownership in a civil and peaceful society. It’ll take us a while to disarm, so let’s get started.

Reform the Police

There is no need to rehash the mountains of data proving institutional racism in American policing. That is a well established fact. I also don’t believe defunding the police in and of itself will fix anything. The problems run much deeper than that.

First we must demilitarize the police. That may mean decreases in funding for military-grade equipment and weapons, but it also means restructuring every police academy in America, taking apart the military-style structure of rank and command, and rebuild police departments as community keepers of the peace with civilian oversight that has real oversight powers.

Qualified Immunity, which gives police officers free reign to mete out violence without consequence, must be abolished. No one is above the law, especially law enforcement. A national database of police violence, abuse, and complaints must be formed so that abusive officers can’t just hop from one department to the next. Officers associated with hate groups must be immediately expelled. Unlawful search and seizure and asset forfeiture that unjustly targets the poor and people of color must end.

The ACLA has an excellent guide to police reform.

America is rapidly becoming electric cars and wearable tech, but our government is still horse-and-buggies and wind-up pocket watches. The old operation system doesn’t work for the world we live in today. It’s time for a major upgrade.