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The tragedies in the Middle East and Ukraine:" Who can de-claw the cat?

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Deena Stryker commented on my recent article sub-titled 'Canaries in a coal mine.' She wrote, "I agree with the premise of this article, but wonder what the next step will be when journalists have named the culprit as being our plutocracy." This is, indeed, a question well worth wondering about. It is easy to fantasize about how we would like to see the cat de-clawed, but extremely difficult to conceive of a strategy for doing so. Nevertheless, there is a great deal at stake. Our plutocracy dominates, not only our interventions in the Middle East and Ukraine, but all other aspects of our foreign and domestic policies. However futile it may seem to "take arms against a sea of troubles," a slim chance is better than no chance.


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Who can de-claw the cat?

This is an easier question than "Who will bell the cat? It has a somewhat more encouraging answer. The power to de-claw the cat lies with our state legislatures and with our state legislatures alone. This is so because genuine reform requires constitutional changes and our state legislatures are the only institutions empowered to amend the Constitution. [1]

Reining in our plutocracy requires incisive changes in our governmental system. These changes can be made only by altering our Constitution. For example, we must take money out of politics. Overturning Citizens United would be only palliative. To achieve genuine change we must make the solicitation, use and acceptance of private money felonies (in any amount and in connection with any federal elections or other balloting). This and other pivotal changes can be effected only by amending our Constitution.

To use Madison's word in Federalist 53, the Constitution is "unalterable" by our federal government. Article V tells us that the Constitution can be altered in only two ways. First, it can be altered by proposed amendment(s) being ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures. Alternatively, proposed amendments can be ratified by conventions called for this purpose at the discretion of the state legislatures. While Congress can "propose" one or the other of these methods (just as it can propose amendments themselves) the word "propose" indicates that each state legislature can choose the method for its state.

Some Political realities obstructing reform

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A plutocracy is a society controlled by a small number of very wealthy people. In the US, their use of their money to influence political candidates and the media is not checked. This enables them to dominate both our civil officers and our media. Thus two of the institutions of society that might otherwise help us organize a peaceful resistance movement are controlled by the same group of wealthy persons we are resisting. Our concentration of wealth (that is, the gap between our rich and our poor) is a cause, a consequence and the principal strength of our plutocracy.

Ironically, the Cerberus guarding our plutocracy is our "people's branch" - the Congress. The procedural functions assigned Congress by the Framers allow it to both defend itself against reform and defend the plutocracy from the constitutional powers of the people. For example, Congress has used its control over procedures to forestall (by ignoring) the many attempts of state legislatures to call constitutional conventions. It has also declined to propose even the innocuous reform statutes and amendments put forward by our non-governmental organizations.

The reluctance of our major parties to work together on most issues is another political reality that obstructs the reining in of our plutocracy. Reining in our plutocracy must be, of necessity, a bi-partisan matter. This is reasonable since it aims at preserving our democracy and furthering the well being of the rank-and-file of both parties. Partisanship on this issue at the congressional level is not a problem. The parties at that level are united in their opposition to genuine reform. However, reform cannot occur without the Republican and Democratic state legislators being united in favor of reining in our plutocracy.

Our tendency toward preferring small and gradual changes arrived at by compromise is also, in the present situation, an obstacle to reform. The longer we delay genuine reform, the more difficult it becomes. There should be no compromises, delays or half-way measures used in dealing with our present crisis. For example, our efforts to overturn Citizens United, even if successful, would only put us back where we were in 2010 before the Citizens United decision. We must, instead, prohibit the use of all private money in federal balloting (and provide the resources for strict enforcement of our prohibition) in order to have any appreciable impact on our plutocracy.

Further, our pessimistic attitudes toward what is possible discourage us from making a serious effort to recover our democracy.

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The political realities mentioned above make amendments a necessity

While these political realities make genuine reform extremely difficult, they also make it necessary to the continuation of our democracy. The prime purpose of our Constitution is to assure that we are self-governed. This cardinal principle is established by the Declaration of Independence and implicit in the Constitution as interpreted by the federalist papers. In Washington's Farewell Address of 1796, he called the peoples' power to amend the Constitution "the basis of our political system."

However, this principle of self government has not been given efficacy [2] by either the Constitution or by subsequent statutes. This is due, in part, to the time pressures placed on the Framers by the crises of 1787. These pressures forced them to sign the proposed constitution with some important issues unresolved. It is also due, in part, to the technological, societal and demographic changes since the late 18 th century.

In any event, the same supreme law that Madison believed would be "unalterable by government" has been continually and illegally altered by our public servants. Yet the constitutional task of our public servants is to carry out our wishes, not to carry out their own. As Madison pointed out in Federalist 47, the "new modeling" of governmental powers should "recur to the people." If we are to regain our democracy, we must give up-to-date and improved instructions to our public servants. Now that our election process has been corrupted by money, it is more important than ever that we guide and instruct our public servants by revising and up-dating the Constitution itself. Our forefathers intended the Constitution to be a living document. We should treat it as such.

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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