Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Constitution, Corporations & Coal


Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. - Benjamin Franklin

No free government can stand without virtue in the people, and a lofty spirit of patriotism. - Andrew Jackson

Virtue may be defined as the love of the laws and of our country. As such love requires a constant preference of public to private interest, it is the source of of private virtue... A government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it... Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic. - Thomas Jefferson


Here in Bellingham, we are focused on Coal and the proposed export terminal at Cherry Point.

Behind this proposal are Corporations that stand to profit from this venture, despite any concerns expressed from the local community.

But, behind that is the Constitutional interpretation expressed only last year, that Corporations are People, and that Money represents Speech.

At what level should any of these nested -and cascading- ideas be opposed?

The answer is at ALL levels.

Of course, ultimately the most effective level is the latter, the Constitutional level.

It does take more time and effort, even though in the end solving that problem would have the effect of helping to solve a myriad of multiple problems.

But, there is a way to attack all three levels of problems, individually and collectively, which is the subject of this blog.


Finally, a great book has appeared that offers clear and achievable ideas and effective actions that we can take as citizens to put some things straight again in this country:

Corporations are not People by Jeffrey D Clements

My wife, Joan, obtained this book through Truthout and gave it to me to read, for which I am thankful.

This is by far the best analysis and simple action plan I've yet to read about doing something positive about correcting some basic problems that threaten the very foundations of our republican form of democratic government.

It actually gives me hope!

Of course, the actions suggested will take work, but they hold the promise of having us -the public- in control of very important changes most of us already wish to make in our government.

Below, is a quick summary of the three steps the author suggests, all of which are positive steps in their own right.

Taken together, they would go a long way toward correcting the excesses in lobbying, elections, tax fairness, bail-outs, financial regulation, outsourcing jobs overseas, corporate accountability, campaign finance, wage equity, corruption of public officials, crony capitalism, and the undue influence of transnational corporations on society, the environment and local governments.

To me, as well as many others -including libertarians, 'Tea Party' supporters, Occupy protesters and others- those actions are both necessary and overdue, yet Congress continues to be paralyzed to act in any meaningful way!

If, for other reason, its time for the public to assert its power and get these things to be part of a serious national discussion, with definitive action as the end result.

That public effort alone can give Congress and the Supreme Court the clear direction they so desperately need to get us back on the honest track our Founders intended.


• First and most important, we need to work for the 28th amendment to the Constitution, a People's Rights Amendment, to reverse Citizens United and corporate constitutional rights.

• As the second step, we must insist, rather than beg, that corporations actually serve the public interest. Corporate law should ensure that corporations do not really take benefits from the public; they must also fulfill duties to the book.

• Third, we need to make election and lobbying laws that punish, rather than reward, corrupt crony capitalism and bribe-based politics.


Here's the proposed Amendment XXVIII:

Section I. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section II. The words people person or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies, or other corporate established by the laws of any state, the United States or any foreign state. Such corporate entities are subject to any regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section III. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and all such other rights of the people, which lights are inalienable.


While it may not be immediately obvious how such a short and clear Amendment might be effective, here is my take;

The Citizens United decision early last year by the US Supreme Court essentially culminated a long campaign by corporate interests that determined -by a 5-4 margin- that corporations are people and money is speech.

Those remarkable expressions simply defy reality to me!

In fact, they are so ridiculously Orwellian that its hard for me to believe that our highest court could have made such a decision.

But, they did. And now we're stuck with the results, at least until we can get their attention in no uncertain terms.


Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and duty to see that they work in harmony with these institutions. - Theodore Roosevelt


Here are some links that are helpful in revealing resources available to aid this cause:

About Citizens United:

The Constitutional Amendment Campaign & the People's Rights Amendment:

Corporate Charter Reform & Corporate Accountability:

Corporations for the 21st Century:

Cleaning the Swamps: Campaign Finance & Lobbying Reform:

Other Resources:


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Constitution: Living Document or Parchment Guarantee?

This article caught my eye recently because it touches on a subject near and dear to my heart, as well as most people I know. It concerns our Constitution and a comparison of it to other, more recent Constitutions, written and adopted by nations inspired largely by the example America has made to the world - which is overwhelmingly good.

But, anyone with a conscience does know that our Constitution -excellent as it is- is not perfect; in fact, in some regards, it is clearly deficient and/or lacking in some of the freedoms we think we have. Some do simply choose to believe our Constitution IS perfect and we should not even think about changing a word, letter or a punctuation mark in it; which extremely difficult to do anyway under the rules that have been adopted.
“the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today."
You can speculate on the reasons for this ultra-conservative view as well as I can and maybe better, but why is such a position the one of choice for so many? To me, it seems that some people put so much faith in the lofty principles our Constitution embodies that any attempt to revise, clarify or add to it by Amendment amounts to heresy. Of course, that view amounts to defending individual belief systems, much like religion; which of course is protected under the very Constitution in question! How's that for circular reasoning? Maybe a better word than 'reasoning' is argument.

I suspect our Constitution offers different perceptions to different people, with just enough vagueness to guarantee wiggle room for those who want to debate their favored issue. Maybe that's why our Founders decided to let Thomas Jefferson write the first draft; he knew how to appeal to higher values without being too specific. Never mind that improvements would be needed later; it was necessary to get a document that could pass muster at the time -and our Constitution was the best compromise available to keep our shaky union together against outside forces. Why else would politics be called the art of the possible?

Thomas Jefferson, in a 1789 letter to James Madison, once said that every constitution “naturally expires at the end of 19 years” because “the earth belongs always to the living generation.”

But, getting something passed on principle is easier than getting every eventuality covered, as we have learned from the necessity for the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments and interpretations of the Constitution. That process is ongoing, as it should be, but difficult at best because entrenched thinking has come to look upon those vague words and lofty principles as agreeing with a host of secular opinions. People feel threatened by the very idea of changing something upon which rests their faith in the system that they have come to believe benefits their individual interests. Thus, any change is defended against with all the passion that is necessary to preserve their perceived advantage. They have learned to live with the status quo and just don't want to risk changing anything that might create altered circumstances.
...."the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, may now be more influential than its American counterpart."
Fortunately, there are others in the world who also admire our Constitution's concepts so much that they use it as an example to develop their own, as many countries have done. In some of these cases, the principles upon which the US of A was founded served as their starting point, but they were not entirely limited by it, because there do exist multiple possible improvements that can become an extension of it and benefit modern society.

The article cited describes research done by two distinguished professors of respected universities, one of them my own - U VA, the school founded by the same Thomas Jefferson who wrote our Constitution. Among the authors conclusions are some really interesting findings after extensive study of some 170 different constitutions; that ours is rather 'terse' by comparison and lacks clear statements of many rights now expected by many citizens.

There are, of course, limits to empirical research based on coding and counting, and there is more to a constitution than its words, as Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights,” he said.

“The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours,” he said, adding: “We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!”

“Of course,” Justice Scalia continued, “it’s just words on paper, what our framers would have called a ‘parchment guarantee.’'
Related to the susceptibility of our Constitution to be misinterpreted and warped to the advantage of some, is the current national debate over who controls Washington and our economy.

To hear how corrupted our system has become by the over-concentration of wealth and power is troubling to most of us, including an increasing number of conservatives who prefer real facts and rational reasoning over narrow, self-serving ideology and its rampant promulgation of propaganda to an audience that has become alarmingly ignorant and susceptible to often repeated corporate rhetoric in sound bytes.

A new term has been coined to describe that mass of people who often tune into FOX News for their info-mation; Ignorati a contraction of the words ignore and ignorance.
As a modern retro-counterpart to the Illuminati of ancient times - those who dared question Church dogma - these new, 'Ignorati' simply choose to be ignorant by ignoring anything that tries to awaken them from what they prefer to hear; especially factual explanations for things they choose to believe. Now, that is truly dangerous!

A recent PBS interview by Bill Moyers with former Reagan economic advisor Bruce Bartlett is an example of what I see as push-back against the Ignorati agenda.
Bartlett's remarkable conversion from a trusted member of the conservative establishment to an outspoken critic of it's corrupted policies has earned him nothing less than total ex-communication from his former colleagues
Why has he turned against such strongly held opinions?; because he can't stand the hypocrisy of constantly touting lies to bring down our government to benefit a cabal of crazy ideologues!
I would call that the courage of an honest person - even a hero - wouldn't you?

Watch the film clip to learn why Bartlett has come to think as he does, and why he believes it may even be possible for current, self-professed Tea Party members to eventually join the Occupy Wall Street movement!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Agenda 21: Common Sense Under Suspicion?

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. - George Washington

When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.

Today's Herald -again- carried an article describing how off-base Whatcom County has become in its latest sorry attempts at rigging GMA policy toward those same 'special interests' that have been, for years, usurping responsible government for their own selfish purposes and agendas.

That the County Council has been in the thrall of certain development interests is not news, but the actual extent of that rip-off is only now being revealed, which continues a pattern of willful deception that is destructive to both good government and the overall best interests of its citizens.
But, even with such directly incriminating evidence, some are still in denial that anything wrong has been done! Now, THAT is sadly, truly troubling, because it brings to mind the fact that we are electing people whose minds are either being controlled by ideology, or who are appallingly susceptible to persuasion by certain misguided elements in our County government, or its influential advisors.

Could our County Council's problem with responsible growth management be related to the so-called 'Tea' Party and its sometimes very strange ideas?

This Crosscut article relates similar stupid mind-sets to a strange movement against the so-called UN 'Agenda 21', a recommendation for sustainable development.
If so, that thinking is stranger than strange, and actually counterproductive to what most rational people would consider good sense!

When a people decide upon self governance, that's something of a miracle in itself; but when certain misguided segments of the population then attempt to hijack what most willingly accept as simple common sense in every one's best interest, that's stupid at worse and problematic at best.
Don't you think that such thinking needs to be reasonably justified and held accountable?

It would be very interesting to hear a cogent argument against reasonable growth planning; one that would rationally explain a few things, like why reserving farmland and open space is a bad idea, or why concentrating population, schools and business doesn't make sense, or why providing mass transit options to private transport isn't worthwhile. Aren't those things basic to prudent economic governance?
While I'm certainly open to such explanations and sincerely want to hear them, pardon my doubt since such arguments do seem so ridiculously counter intuitive.

Fortunately, there is room for considerable diversity in our country, including a certain amount of selfish self interest, but how much utter stupidity can we tolerate and still call ourselves an educated country which presumes to leadership in the free world, as well as preservation of our own basic freedoms, so presciently given us by our founders?

Alternately, perhaps those so enamored of their private 'rights' can tell us of other places where such an excess of aberrant thought has been successful over time. I sincerely hope that these folks constitute such a minuscule minority that most citizens would view them as am tempted to do; ignore them as the willful crackpots they are.

More troubling is the possibility that some who subscribe to these thoughts have actually managed to become officials, either elected or appointed, who profess to serve us here in Whatcom County- the fourth corner of sanity!

That of course, would explain some part of the silly GMA dilemma we now find ourselves embroiled in, thanks to the devious, backward and ridiculous policies that our recent and current County Council have saddled us with to our great misfortune!

Is it really possible that some misguided souls really do believe the United Nations is to blame for our problems? If so, perhaps they would agree to illuminating us into their reasoning by means of some convincing proofs.....

Q.E.D. is an initialism of the Latin phrase quod erat demonstrandum, which translates as "which was to be demonstrated". The phrase is traditionally placed in its abbreviated form at the end of a mathematical proof or philosophical argument when what was specified in the enunciation — and in the setting-out — has been exactly restated as the conclusion of the demonstration.[1] The abbreviation thus signals the completion of the proof.

Q.E.D. is sometimes jokingly claimed to abbreviate "quite easily done". Q.E.D. can also be used to ridicule the specious reasoning of another person by mockingly attaching it to the end of a poor argument, which was not in fact successfully demonstrated or presented.


Since our illustrious Whatcom County Council - in a unique reality of its own - seems to have conjured its own solutions without appreciably understanding the real problem of growth management. Perhaps, this can be partially explained -or confused- from Six Characters In Search Of An Author (by Luigi Pirandello 1921);

There is a body of ideas by now universally denominated 'Pirandellian', and here is the Maestro attempting to compress them into half a dozen lines:

…the deceit of mutual understanding irremediably founded on the empty abstraction of words, the multiple personality of everyone (corresponding to the possibilities of being to be found in each of us), and finally the inherent tragic conflict between life (which is always moving and changing) and form (which fixes it, immutable).

If this sounds a bit crazy, it may be, but no more so than do our Councillors, in real life!

They seem all too willing to substitute their own agenda for that adopted by the people of WHATCOM COUNTY, the State of Washington, and good sense, in general.

Under such circumstances, what are our remedies as citizens, other than lawsuit, recall, or voting them out of office? It has been obvious that they are resistant -even deaf- to reasonable arguments and appeals to their better judgement, at least until now. This situation would be laughable, if it were not so appallingly stupid -and costly to taxpayers!

I call upon our new County Executive to take this matter under serious advisement, and to demand that proper procedures and competent directions be given to those Council members who so obviously need it!

If they are to serve the public, they need to respect the public with proper education, understanding, discourse and decision-making. Otherwise, why are they there?


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Storm Water: Who Decides What Is Good Sense?

Repeating a phrase from yesterday's blog seems appropriate to this one, too:

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Today's Crosscut article addresses the latest attempt to delay -again- regulations that are more effective for storm water control. This seems like 'deja vu' all over again to me, so I posted this comment from my own experience:


The idea seems ironic to postpone doing something that is good sense just because the 'economy' isn't very good right now. With the historic stand taken by the Building Industry, no new regulations would ever be passed or implemented, particularly if developers are required to pay their 'fair share' of costs borne by all citizens, abide by required rules, or spend time explaining what is planned in return for a permit. That mentality is what got us into the present situation where the very quality of our own habitat is severely threatened!

DOE has a big responsibility and limited authority -or will- to act reasonably and in a timely manner to actually address solving the non-source pollution problem that is so problematic, yet its wings are repeatedly clipped by the slightest resistance to tighter and more effective regulations. Ecology has now developed such a reputation for wimping out and continual delay that, unfortunately, this behavior is no longer a surprise, but a frustration. Can you imagine any caring professional working for an organization like that? It's an unfunny joke, and a gross disservice to the public, which pays for reasonable services to help protect the air, water and soil we all depend upon.

Granted, that DOE can excel at its job if given necessary support from municipalities and the State Legislature, but without that support you can see what happens, repeatedly. The problem is that after-the-fact mitigation is always less effective and more expensive than getting things right from the first; which is why more delay won't help at all, but make the observed problems worse! Of course developers will play the deny, decry, delay game! That simply takes them off the hook and defers liability onto the home owner and municipality -at a higher environmental and social cost.

Several years ago, Bellingham was able to make its Surface & Storm Water Utility more effective by implementing the latest DOE/EPA rules and raising rates to pay for them. That was an understandably painful process, but it now seems to have worked. Guess who led the fight against that change? If you guessed the Building Industry, you'd be right -and that was during an economic boom period of record levels!

In fairness, the Storm Water permitting is often the most difficult to do, and the most expensive and time-intensive. Largely, this difficulty was due to several logical factors, among others; topography and vegetative cover become more important, interfacing with the already-built infrastructure can require ingenuity and expense, treating the storm water for pollutants is necessary, codifying new guidelines takes time and one size doesn't fit every situation. But, what is the excuse for not using the new rules for new development? There, one has a pretty clean slate to actually practice the art of low-impact techniques, thereby avoiding many of the problems outlined above.

In the end, more delay of storm water improvements for the asking doesn't help anyone, except the lobbyists -like the BIA- and that is a short-term, special favor that the rest of us -or our children- must pay for some day, in some way, but well after people forget the linkage to unwanted consequences.


PS. Today's Gristle further illuminates the problem of 'doing the right thing' at it's most basic level; following the existing law! Is there any hope for Whatcom County? No wonder DOE has problems!