Wednesday, August 08, 2007

America--Love it or...Change it

Right on the heels of Congress authorizing the extension of electronic wiretapping and eavesdropping, a coalition of groups that includes Human Right Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights has created a grassroots effort called the American Freedom Campaign. The idea of the effort is to get citizens to sign onto a pledge which affirms that the United States is a nation that respects the rule of law and no public official ought to be able to work outside of that framework to engage in torture, detention, "disappearance", or the use of secret or extra-judicial bodies. The idea is that these kinds of practices are "un-American" and any administration that tries to justify them is acting against the traditions and history of the United States. You can go to the pledge here.

In another effort to revitalize democracy, a group, The Democracy Foundation, is proposing the idea of a “people’s legislature” or a “fourth branch of government.” The argument here is that the legislative branch of government is not representative of the public’s interest any longer and there needs to be another way that the people can have their input into lawmaking. The suggestion is that there needs to be a kind of national initiative process, by which ordinary citizens can propose laws (as they do in numerous states, including Oregon).

Its not clear how this fourth branch would operate in the traditional checks and balances system of our government. The big worry is that this kind of an institution would get hijacked by big money interests and initiatives would be sponsored not by grassroots groups that represent the public, but by special interests groups or individuals with deep pockets (though there are some policy experts that say we need not worry too much about this). After all, spending money is considered free speech in the United States (because of case of Buckley v Vallejo), so that the more money you have, the more effective voice you have in the system. This kind of influence involves not just getting initiatives on the ballot, but also influencing the media to report on the information citizens might need to make informed judgments about referendums. Its not clear that a fourth branch of government would do anything to make the United States more democratic or provide any kind of bulwark against forces that would make us go against the deepest traditions of law and ethics.

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At 9:22 AM , Blogger crallspace said...

As great as the idea of a 4th branch of govt. made up by the People is... I fear that our current climate would, as your post mentioned, maybe go to the rich as everything else has.

Interesting idea though.

In fact, come to the Corvallis Open Forum and have your say about it. SAT morning, 11-1 at the Farmer's MKT. We meet under a large deciduous tree, about 500 FT. of the kiddie fountains.

At 1:27 PM , Blogger Dennis said...

On the one hand, this is an interesting proposal.

On the other, your point about such a proposal being hijacked is well taken. In Oregon, Tom Sizemore and a few folks from out of state with a lot of money have managed to quite effectively hijacked our system to place a lot of undemocratic measures on the ballot. And, of course, word has it that California has the same problem in a big way.

I guess I think that the initiative system is only a solution if people are interested in using it and if it's effectively policed for big money interests, court decisions aside.

At the state level, I don't see it working, but at the national level, there may be a critical mass of folks who can use such a system effectively.

Though I can't wait for all the DailyKos-type lefty activists, who spent years crashing the gates and are now insiders in the name of governing by and for the people to argue that this isn't a good idea. I think if the same groups of lefty bloggers/activists had heard about this in 2004 they might have jumped on it. Hard to say.


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