Category Archives: Constitutional Reform

Related to both legal and illegal attempts at changing the constitution

U.S. Constitutional Amendment proposal

The occupation of Wall Street, or actually a park a few blocks away, has shed light on the democratic deficiency in USA. The main reason is the corruption of the politicians. Nobody can serve two masters, says the Bible, but the Congressmen are expected to serve both the tax payers who are paying their salaries, and the donors who are paying their election campaigns. Since the latter is the larger post, no wonder they get the lion part of the politicians’ attention. The focus of reform must therefore lie on ending the institutionalized political corruption in the legislative body of the union. This requires attention to several different details at the same time, which I will address in the form of a proposed text for a constitutional amendment.

Paragraph 1. The first ten Amendments of the Constitution shall be named collectively the “Bill of Human Rights” and the word “person” shall refer to all living human beings from the moment they are born. Comment: Since the 19th Century a Supreme Court precedent has given corporations the same constitutional rights as human beings. This article is designed to undo that precedent and return the power to the people.

Paragraph 2. Congress shall make no law relating to specific cases. All laws shall be of a general and universal nature, and apply equal for all cases where the circumstances are similar. Neither a chamber of Congress, nor an individual member of Congress, shall express an opinion on a specific case, nor on the application of bills decided on by congress once they have become law. The specifics shall be formulated in regulations emitted by the administrative agency charged with implementing the law. Comment: By removing the possibility for congressmen to influence specific cases, a significant reason for bribing them is eliminated.

Paragraph 3. An administrative court system shall be established by Congress. Individuals and legal persons shall be able to turn to this administrative court system to challenge the implementation of regulations based on laws, or the implementation of regulations in actual administrative practice, including in individual cases. Decisions shall be appealable to Appellate Administrative Courts, and the highest level of appeal shall be the President’s cabinet, subject to their approval of attending the case. Comment: This will replace the practice of turning to ones member of Congress in case of trouble with the federal government, a practice that invites corruption.

Paragraph 4. Every member of Congress has a right to an up or down vote on the floor of the chamber, in the same session, on all proposals submitted before noon on the 30th calendar day since the inauguration of a regular session of Congress. Comment: This is designed to force Congress to function better than today, by removing the possibility to indefinitely stall proposals. It removes the possibility for a single member to exert undue influence, and thus it eliminates the possibility for special interests to bribe a single member to do just that.

Paragraph 5. All legislative proposals intended to become law must be reviewed for constitutionality in its final form before an up or down vote is taken on the floor of a chamber of Congress. This review shall be made by a Constitutional Board, consisting of 6 members all holding research doctorate degrees in Law, proposed by the House and approved by the Senate for 12-year staggered terms with one replacement every second year. The board can only make written statements and may only express opinions on legislative proposals as a group. The board may not express opinions on bills that have already become law, that being the exclusive privilege of the judicial branch. Comment: This is designed to both fight corruption, and improve the function of Congress, and improve the judicial situation of the country by eliminating the possibility of unconstitutional bills becoming law. Since the final draft must be reviewed, it excludes the kind of last-minute additions that are the main method by which pork is inserted into bills as payback to campaign contributors.

Paragraph 6. The President of the union shall appoint a cabinet of no less than 5 and no more than 20 members, who shall be approved by the Senate, having the right to an up or down vote within 20 days after the nomination, counting only the weekdays when the Senate is in session. All decisions shall be taken by the cabinet in quorum with at least half of the cabinet members apart from the President required at the meeting to have a quorum. The only exception is in the case of a declared war or a state of emergency, in which case the President can decide on urgent matters alone. As soon as circumstances permit, but not later than 72 hours after the decision, the decision and the justification for it and the nature of its adoption shall be communicated to the members of the cabinet who were not present when it was taken. The Vice President shall be included as a cabinet member without portfolio. In the case of an equal number of votes for and against a proposal, the President has the deciding vote. Comment: This is designed to speed up the taking office of the new administration after a presidential election, as well as to make the executive decision-making more democratic, and less prone to errors of judgment of a single person.

Paragraph 7. Members of Congress represent all the people of the United States, and they all have a right to a reasonable contact with any member of Congress who is involved in a committee that deals with the policy issue that the person wants to discuss. This right extends to interest groups formed by individuals, provided they have only individuals as members, that the group has a democratically elected leadership according to the principle one member – one vote, and that the group does not accept donations from for-profit organizations. Corporations, corporate interest groups, or lobbyists employed by corporations may not discuss policy with members of congress in closed meetings, only in meetings open for the public. Comment: This is another way to make corruption harder.

Paragraph 8. Political parties have a right to a tax-funded campaign contribution that is proportional to their result in the previous election of the same kind, i.e., for the House, for the Senate, and for the President. The result shall be counted as the nationwide percentage of the votes, not as the seats won. The size of the contribution shall be proposed by the President before each election, and given an up or down vote by the Senate within 20 session days. The Parties shall be in charge of distributing this money to their candidates’ campaigns as they see fit, but ultimately it is the Parties themselves through their chairman who is responsible for making sure the public funds are used in accordance with election law. This shall be the only financing for the general election campaign except for new parties since they are not receiving any funds. Comment: This complements the measures against corruption by providing another way to finance a campaign.

Paragraph 9. Public servants in a position to make decisions on individual cases in which a regulation based on a law is implemented, have a personal responsibility to make sure the regulation and the law are being implemented justly and fairly as the lawmaker intended. Comment: This is designed to assure that the implementation of the laws are not arbitrary, as a complement to the administrative court system, to which the civil servants may have to answer if they misbehave. It is thus designed to prevent them from being corrupted instead of the politicians.

Paragraph 10. Cabinet members in charge of [key secretaries, maybe the 5 main ones] will appear individually before the House to answer questions at least once per congressional session, but no more than once per month. Comment: The purpose is to increase the transparency in governing, and to make the elected representatives more able to follow up on how laws are implemented.

Paragraph 11. Every U.S. citizen shall be entitled to have free access to official documents, in order to encourage the free exchange of opinion and the availability of comprehensive information. The right of access to official documents may be restricted only if restriction is necessary with regard to: the security of the Union or its relations with a foreign nation or an international organization; the central fiscal, monetary or currency policy of the Union; the inspection, control or other supervisory activities of a public authority; the interests of preventing or prosecuting crime; the economic interests of the public institutions; the protection of the personal or economic circumstances of individuals; or the preservation of animal or plant species. Comment: This is to further transparency in governing. The wording is taken from the Swedish constitution where this provision has been seen as a central tenet since 1766.

That is my proposal, a draft. Note that there is not one single measure to end corruption, but a plethora of changes designed to circumvent the different practices and cheats that are being used, at the same time making it both difficult and rather meaningless to bribe a politician. I hope to receive comments, although I know it is hard to register (go to bottom, there is a tiny link; sorry for having to do that but the spam was killing the blog and I haven’t had the time to find a better solution). You can also comment on Facebook.

El Golpe de Estado de Chávez 1999

Todo el mundo reconoce que Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías intentó hacer un golpe de estado militar en Venezuela en 1992, pero no es tan bien conocido que llegó a hacer un autogolpe en 1999. Este video muestra claramente como lo hice.

¿Qué significa? Significa que la constitución venezolana de 1961 todavía sigue en vigor, y que el pueblo venezolano legitimamente puede levantarse contra el régimen de Chávez y derrocarlo, ya que la constitución de 1961 no solamente les da el derecho, pero les da el deber de hacerlo.

Por el resto del mundo significa que les sirviera mejor no tratar el régimen de Chávez, ya que no es legítimo. Un nuevo régimen democrático puede censurar a la OEA y la ONU por no haber defendido la democracia en Venezuela. Como sabemos, el único país que ha detenido este tipo de autogolpe del siglo XXI es Honduras, pero siempre hay la esperanza de que los pueblos en las democracias caídas se levanten. Ahora cuando el pueblo en Cuba está despertando, dejando el miedo atrás, solo es una cuestión de tiempo hasta que todos estas dictaduras en America Latina caen.

Además, la salud de Chávez puede acabar con su vida y su régimen golpista en cualquier momento. El hombre propone pero Dios dispone.

Advice to the Red in Honduras

Are you a sympathizer with the “resistencia” in Honduras? Then this is for you. Learning from the history you can avoid some costly mistakes.

We all know Honduras needs democratic reforms, rule of law, and an improved standard of living for the poor. If someone wants to make you believe that the rich in the country don’t want that, they are selling you snake oil. The only thing they object to are the false prophets who are preaching solidarity, while in reality they have a completely different agenda.

Let me take two examples from history, the French and the Russian revolutions, as examples to learn from.

A French journalist who writes about Honduras in US newspapers, wrote as follows: “Working in Central America, where journalists are often accused of conspiring against the status quo, can be daunting. Perched on the highest rungs of government, a crypto-fascist element continues to regard incorruptible and outspoken journalists as gadflies and muckrakers, meddlers, purveyors of social discontent, and blabbermouths who threaten the established order. People in positions of power and influence still equate popular aspirations — the quest for truth, justice, respect for human rights and calls for transparency by the governing elite with political agitation and left-wing subversion.”

Since the deposal of Zelaya last year, I have consistently tried to get the truth out, argued for justice and the respect for human rights, and called for transparency in government in Honduras. Have I been rejected by them? No. On the contrary, they have thanked me for doing exactly that. So why has this journalist such a different experience? Perhaps the real reason is revealed in a letter he sent me, in which he wrote: “… and the “Constituyente” of 1790 rid France of its parasitic gangrene — a bloated aristocracy and a corrupt, all-powerful clergy. It drafted and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man, established a secular state and instituted a radical and absolute separation between Church and State — a mandate that is fiercely enforced to this day. A few heads in a basket is not too high a price to pay to purge a country from its feudal masters….”

“A few heads in a basket”? He is advocating political murder, and wonders why those he wants to murder don’t like him? Is he for real?

Lesson: You have to respect human rights yourself, if you want others to respect your human rights. The one who breaks the law becomes unprotected by the law. It is never, ever, justified to kill any person for any reason, nor to torture.

But what about the French Revolution, doesn’t he have a point? Keep in mind what happened next, before you declare it a success. A dictatorship under Napoleon, the self-declared emperor, who threw all of Europe in war, who killed millions through his wars. Is that a success? Not in my book. The French Revolution is an example of what NOT to do.

But let’s take another example, one that is more relevant to Honduras today: the Russian Revolution. In 1809 Russia conquered the part of Sweden known as Finland. They were allowed to continue using the Swedish laws and form of public administration, since it was more advanced than the Russian. Also the Congress was kept in place. By 1860 the Finnish language, spoken by the poor majority, was given official status.

The social gap in Finland at that time was perhaps the strongest one anywhere in the world. The Russian capital St. Petersburg was built to be the world’s most splendid capital, and it was close to the border to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Not far on the other side of the border Finns still lived in primitive huts in the forest, at about the same standard of living as the poor in Honduras today. The gradient was mind-boggling, and it was accompanied by an ethnic division; the swedish-speakers were the economic elite, the Russians had the power, and the finnish-speakers had nothing but growing ambitions based largely on socialist ideals.

However, by 1899 an intense Russification started, led by general governor Bobrikov. The oppression was intense, the “walls had ears” as my grandfather said. On one occasion his 10-year old classmate was to be sent to Siberia for calling a man who worked for the Russians a “traitor”, but luckily the boy’s father sent him abroad before the police came. Most time in school was taken up with learning Russian, and they used Russian officers as teachers. In 1904 Bobrikov was murdered, and in 1905 the first Russian Revolution came – including in Finland, where a general strike was held in late October.

At the general strike the White and Red united. The White demanded Rule of Law; that the Czar respect the agreement with the Finns, that he respect their Constitution, their Congress, their laws. The Red demanded a constitutional assembly, a “constituyente”. In distress, the Czar agreed to the demands of the White, and they ended the strike.

The Red, however, continued in their demands for a constituyente. What I am about to tell you does not appear in the Wikipedia article about this time, but the Red turned their anger against the White. They went around murdering businessmen and other swedish-speakers whom they considered to be with the White side, with the “oligarchy”. They came also to my great grandfather’s house, but his workers stopped them, saying that he was a good employer and pleaded with them to save him. But it was a terror at the time.

In 1906 the Constitution of Finland was changed to become more democratic still. They created a unicameral Congress with equal rights not just to vote, but also to be elected, regardless of land ownership and sex. It was the first place in the world where women could be elected, and the second, after New Zealand, where women could vote. It would seem that this should satisfy the Red, right?

It did, for a while. But then the oppression from Russia started again, World War I came, and in early 1917 a second Russian Revolution at which the Czar abdicated. After that, Finland started working to be more independent from Russia. The Finnish Congress, which had a socialist majority, passed a law that it, not the provisional government in Russia, was the head of state of Finland. The Russian prime minister Kerenskij did not accept that, dissolved the Finnish Congress and called for new elections. This time the liberals won. Shortly after, in late 1917, the third Russian Revolution occurred, the Bolsheviks took power, and Russia started its long period as the Soviet Union.

However, Finland declared itself independent when that happened. The socialists considered the dissolving of the Congress and subsequent election invalid. Russia acknowledged Finland’s independence on January 4th, 1918, and the liberals in Congress started preparing for converting Finland into a sovereign parliamentarian monarchy. The socialists terminated their cooperation, and an uprising started. This led to what the left has called the Finnish Revolution, the right has called the War of Liberation (since Russian troops helped the Red), but which is now neutrally called the Finnish Civil War. The White side won, but the loss of lives was great on both sides.

World War II also brought great hardship to Finland. Attacked by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by the western democracies that chose to cooperate with Stalin (even though he at the time was a much bigger murderer and dictator than Hitler), Finland fought, at one time or another, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. It was the only belligerent on mainland Europe to maintain democracy throughout the war. Together with London and Moscow, the Finnish capital Helsinki was the only one in Europe never to be occupied, of the countries taking part in the war.

The Finns got a rough deal after the war, and had to pay restitution to the Soviet Union – while Germany got the Marshall help from USA.

Today Finland is one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Why?

They learned the lesson, and they learned it well. You are the master of your own destiny, you and nobody else. To the White and Red in Honduras the message is clear: You have to cooperate and find common ground. If you let others interfere in your country, they will not have your best interest in mind. Only you can have your best interest in mind. And that common interest is best served by a fair and just democracy, in which all have a stake, and in which no minority is oppressed, but the rights of everyone are assured.

Why Parliamentary Republics beat Presidential Republics

Parliamentary republics have separated the roles of head of state  and head of government. They are thus quite  similar to parliamentary monarchies, but the head of state is an elected president rather than a king or queen. Parliamentary constitutions are based on the premise that all power emanates from the people, and that the power is vested in their elected representatives in congress between the elections – just like the shareholders of a corporation elect a board of directors to manage business between the annual meetings.

Parliamentary constitutions are based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people, whereas presidential republics are based on the principle of separation of powers.

In practice this means that the government is dependent on the support of the congress, since the congress has the power to dismiss the head of government (and thus all of his cabinet). While in a presidential republic it would take a recall vote to depose the president (and thus all of his cabinet) for political reasons, in a parliamentary republic the cabinet can be dismissed by a vote in the parliament on short notice. This gives more political control over the government, and gives a voice to a larger segment of society.

The parliamentarians are elected in such a way as to represent the full range of diversity in the country, and proportional to the actual situation in the electorate. This is important; there cannot be one-person districts, because if so, a large percentage of the constituents may end up lacking representation. How large? Well over 50%, perhaps up to 67% or so, thanks to gerrymandering. If one third rules over two thirds, is that democracy? In a parliamentarian system with proportional representation, all parties larger than some 5% of the electorate can be represented in the parliament in proportion to their actual support.

A president only needs 50.01% of the electorate to win, and less if the vote counting is not proportional (as in the USA). Furthermore, presidential republics tend to be two party systems, just one up from one party systems. Thus, to buy the presidency it is enough to buy two candidates. It is self-evident that it is much harder to buy the government in a parliamentarian system, since you would have to buy the support of a majority of the congressmen.

Empirical Evidence

In a report from the World Bank titled “Accountability and Corruption – Political Institutions Matter” (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708, 2001) the authors conclude that:

“The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption – related to openness and legal tradition – do not hold once political variables are taken into account.” (my emphasis)

Also the political stability is higher in parliamentary systems. In How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2001), Robert A. Dahl writes that since 1950, only 22 nations have managed to remain stable with no coups or other discontinuity of the constitutional order. Of those 22, only 2 are presidential republics (USA and Costa Rica). The remaining 20 are parliamentary, 11 republics and 9 monarchies.

As for rule of law, see a previous post on Rule of Law Index 2010.

There is thus empirical evidence that parliamentary democracies:

  • offer better protection against coup d’états
  • foster less corruption
  • foster more rule of law

Democracy Advice to FNRP in Honduras

A one day debate on Facebook within the FNRP (the so-called resistance of Honduras) in April this year leaves me with mixed feelings. It seems clear that they desperately want participatory democracy, and reject the traditional style of politics in the Americas, the strong-man style of caudillismo. That is very good.

However, it also seems that for all their desires and energy (demonstrated in demonstrations the past year), they seem not to know where to begin. How to do it. Where to start. What to do. And that is tragic.

They dream of participatory democracy, but they appear not to know how to create it. They are lucky, though. Learning how is easy. They already have the hardest part taken care of: The will to do it.

It would be very good for Honduras if the FNRP would get organized in a participatory democratic way. Broad based political movements are important, as we have seen in Sweden for instance, with several parties that are so-called popular movements (“folkrörelser”), with a bottom up decision making process. That seems to be exactly what several of the participants in the debate want for Honduras, without really knowing that they don’t have to re-invent participatory democracy. It has existed for thousands of years.

A while ago I wrote a page on Democracy for Dummies, with the bare basics. It is not rocket science, all it takes is that the members commit to a democratic process, and write statutes or bylaws that reflect what they want. (BTW, “bylaw” literally means ‘village law’ since “by” is ‘village’ in Scandinavian languages.)

What these bylaws should say is of course very important, and that is something that has to be worked on diligently. Writing the bylaws correctly is very important for the success. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the building is constructed. Once they are mature, they can call to a constituting assembly and create their organization, e.g. a party with a bottom-up structure in which the congressmen and women are answerable to the members, and not to campaign contributors.

I do hope that they manage to pull this off, because it would benefit everyone in Honduras, also the richest. Yes, those that they call “golpistas.” I know that many in the “frente” believe that the “golpistas” are their enemies, but that is just not true. The enemies of the “golpistas” are not the people, the average Joe who wants to create a more equal society and participatory democracy. No, the enemies are the populists who pretend to share these values with the people, but who really are just out to help themselves, and who would, if they succeed, destroy the chances of economical prosperity in Honduras for decades.

As someone wrote in the debate I mentioned above, this is a struggle that the Honduran people has to do. They must learn for themselves to do these things. They must study. They must reject those who come in and say “I can do that for you, just give me a mandate”. That is caudillismo. What they need is democracy, and the only ones who can bring about democracy is the “demos”, the people.

I wish them good luck, and I offer the advice to look for examples and guidance where democracy works and where there is an ancient tradition. Don’t try to learn from your mistakes, you won’t live long enough to make them all. Learn from the experience of other peoples instead!