Friday, February 02, 2007

Proposed Constitution of North America

Our political system is not working well. Winner-takes-all elections encourage a two-party system, where each party has incentive to make the other look bad. Besides legislative gridlock, this generates a lot of negative campaigning. With both parties generating negatives about the other, many people start believing that all politicians are worthless. This helps to explain the very low voter turnouts that are characteristic of the USA.

Much of the negative perception is based in reality. There has been a lot of corruption in our politics. A small minority of the population has had disproportionate influence, often using threat, bribery, and even election tampering to get their way. Only a vigilant, engaged populace can prevent such behavior, but systemic changes can make it less likely. Unelected bureaucrats have thrown the balance toward a powerful executive and a legislature that is often wrapped around its own processes. We rely upon tradition, rather than engaging the populace in a continual improvement of democracy. Unfortunately, it's difficult to reform political processes that are dominated by the people who benefit from their shortcomings.

In the ideal world, every individual is free to participate in government or not. Voluntary collaboration results in continual betterment of life for all without forcing anybody against their will. Of course utopia requires perfect people, so we're going to have a flawed system, but there's no reason not to continue to try to improve. To do so, we must engage as many people as possible in creating a compelling vision. That is the intent of this pamphlet.

The current system of the USA is based on the hierarchical model of feudal Europe. While the founders threw out the hereditary king, they maintained an elected head of state, who, over time has come to resemble that king too much. Now the most powerful person in the world is replaced every four or eight years, standing everything on its head. Elections are marvelous, but the concentration of power is not healthy, especially when subjected to a competitive contest.

History has been a series of accidents. Even people who thought they were doing the best thing could not foresee the long-term consequences of their actions. Too many good plans have been promoted with brutal force, which taints everything it touches. When we remember that government rules only by the consent of the governed, we realize that when people stand united for positive change, they have more power than any tyrant. To unite the diverse people who live on this continent, we must open our ears to the best ideas from every sector of the population.

Witness the patchwork of boundary lines that crisscross our continent. Many reflect nothing more than an arbitrary ruler set to a map. Yet these arbitrary rules affect real lives in profound ways. Political systems should support natural healthy human communities. We are divided enough by the constraints of our physical world without being divvied between governments like so much ransacked booty. All humans are born with the same rights, which should not be limited by place of birth. When we come together around a common vision, we can erase the accidents of the past, while embracing those traditions that still make sense, and innovating collaboratively.

This document does not pretend to be legal or formal. Such a document could only arise through an intense democratic process. Please read this as a starting point for such a process. Discuss the ideas herein, consider alternatives and determine your own ideals. Most importantly, please take the necessary steps to advance democracy in your own community. Imagine a political system that is inclusive, participatory, representative, accountable, transparent and responsive to citizens aspirations and expectations. In celebration of collaboration among diverse citizens, we anticipate this
Proposed Constitution of North America
I. The Continental Congress shall have responsibility and authority for legislation in North America. Each of the 525 Members of this unicameral body shall represent constituents' interests in a collaborative effort to best serve the needs of all while depriving the liberty of none.
A. The initial Congress shall be comprised of representatives chosen from among their members by the existing national legislatures: 363 from the USA; 122 from Mexico; and 40 from Canada. Every second year, that third of the Congress which has been in office longest shall be replaced through elections, designed by the Council to proportionally represent all significant political factions of each of the continent's bioregions. Each Member must reside within the bioregion served and may serve only one six year term. Each bioregion shall be represented by the portion of the whole number of Members of Congress equal to the portion of residents of the whole continent who reside in that bioregion, as determined by the Council.
B. As its first act and whenever called into question, Congress shall determine the delineation of the bioregions of the continent. Congress shall regulate the Continental budget, providing for equal lifetime compensation of every Member of government, not exceeding the mean average income of the citizens, and for the means to execute their charge, and giving full accounting to the people of every revenue and expense. Congress may issue currency without borrowing or taxation. Congress shall regulate inter-regional and extra-continental trade and maintain control of large corporate ventures in the interest of the people. Congress shall oversee the process of maintaining the use of limited resources at sustainable rates. By majority vote Congress may make laws as necessary to improve the general welfare, enhance security, and maintain the liberties of the people of North America, and ratify treaties negotiated by the Cabinet. Congress may by three quarter majority vote impeach any Member of the Congress, Cabinet, Court, or Council for abuse of power or criminal behavior, and may remove any Member of the Court by consensus. Upon impeachment the Member shall be suspended until the Court has resolved the matter.
C. Congress shall make no law restricting the rights, as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of any person in the world. Congress may not make an ex post facto law, nor suspend the writ of habeus corpus. Every law made by Congress shall contain a date of termination not to exceed fifty years from origination. All proceedings, deliberations and votes of Congress shall be open to public scrutiny and documented for public understanding. Each Member of Congress shall spend the majority of the time of the term physically within the bioregion served. Upon receipt of petition from at least one percent of the voters, Congress shall vote upon any proposal therein. That no proposal shall be voted upon without first being adequately discussed, cloture shall require a two thirds majority vote.
II. The Cabinet shall have responsibility and authority to execute the laws duly passed by Congress. Each of the seven members of the Cabinet will carry out agreed tasks in the manner best serving all the people of North America. Delegation of tasks among the members shall be by consensus of the entire Cabinet.
A. The initial Cabinet shall be comprised of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, plus the Secretary of State of the United States. Each year one member of the Cabinet shall be replaced through a continental ranked preference election, beginning with the former Secretary of State, proceeding through the former Vice Presidents and then the former Presidents of Mexico, Canada, and the United States in that order. Each Member may serve only one term of seven years.
B. The Cabinet may hire, regulate, and dismiss such employees as are necessary to execute the laws of North America. The Cabinet shall represent North America among the nations of the world, negotiating treaties subject to ratification by Congress. The Cabinet may direct the Navy and, during times of threat, the coordination of local militias.
C. Every member and employee of government within North America is bound to respect the equal right of each human to access with dignity the necessities of a healthy life. North America shall not engage in aggressive warfare nor occupy foreign lands with troops, and shall abide by all treaties which Congress has ratified. No Member or former Member of the Congress, Cabinet, Court or Council shall be hired for any task of government beyond their duty of office.
III. The Supreme Court shall have responsibility to resolve conflicts and oversee the administration of justice, seeking to prevent recurrence of crime and to provide amends for victims and, when practical, rehabilitation for offenders.
A. Members of the Court shall be appointed by consensus of the Cabinet and shall serve until resignation, death, or impeachment.
B. In response to a complaint, the Court may compel any parties to an orderly trial and delegate authority to a system of local and regional courts to assure quick quality decisions based upon review of observations from every available viewpoint and deliberation of appropriate law and precedent. The primary goal of the courts will be to satisfy the needs of all parties as much as possible within the laws passed by Congress. The Court may enforce the Constitutional limitations of Congress, Cabinet, and Council and resolve conflicts which arise among them.
C. The Court must satisfy the equal rights of accused and victims to a speedy trail by a jury of their peers following due process. No individual is granted superiority within the courts. None may be convicted except by consensus of a jury and the right to appeal may not be denied. Blame, retribution and punishment are to be avoided, but every person may be held accountable for behavior. The Court may only compel to trial Members of the Congress, Cabinet, Court, or Council who have been impeached by Congress.
IV. The Electoral Council shall have responsibility and authority to regulate elections to choose Members of Congress and the Cabinet within the guidelines of this document.
A. The Council shall be comprised of one representative chosen by each Political Party which has established itself by presenting to the Council signatures from at least one percent of the voters upon a ratifying document stating the goals of the Party.
B. The Council may direct government employees and enlist voluntary compliance among citizens to engage all residents of the continent in free and fair elections. The Council shall issue invitations to impartial observers from foreign nations to provide objective witness of their processes. Demographic census data gathered for electoral purposes may be shared with Congress and the public, without disclosure of specific private information.
C. Every decision of the Council must be made by consensus. No individual Member of the Council has authority without consent of the whole Council. Registration of residents for voting may not be used for any regulation of those residents beyond elections. The Council may not regulate the internal decision making processes of any party, nor allow any citizen greater vote than another.
V. Within two years of the ratification of this Constitution, pre-existing governments within North America shall have ceded all authority to the new governments of the Continent and the bioregions. Any remaining resources of government will distribute to the lowest practical level of common ownership.
A. When ratified by three quarters of the population of North America, this Constitution and all laws and treaties pursuant to it shall be the highest law of the continent.
B. Within three months of the ratification of this Constitution, every existing national and regional government shall submit to its constituents a detailed plan for transferal of all resources to existing local governments, to one of thirteen new bioregional governments, or to the continental government defined herein. The citizens of each bioregion are empowered to create their own government subject to popular ratification. Within two years of ratification of this constitution, every preexisting state, provincial, and national government in North America shall cease to govern.
C. Within twelve years of ratification of this Constitution and every subsequent ten years, the Electoral Council shall organize a continental election for popular confirmation of this Constitution by the adult residents of North America. Within three months of any such election failing to confirm the Constitution by at least sixty percent majority, the Council shall convene a Continental Convention to draft a new proposed constitution, which will be subject to same ratification.


Who can say when conditions in our society will be truly ripe for a proposal of this magnitude? It certainly won't happen without a lot of work. I'm happy to illuminate steps that appear to lead in the right direction, but it is up to you to decide what actions are appropriate for you.

To change the current system, we must become deeply integrated into it without allowing it to warp our ideals. We must vote, recruit and register voters, and help count votes, so we can be sure it's done fairly. We must discuss issues with politicians as well as our neighbors and friends. The goal is to realize our ideals without giving ground to the forces who promote violence and injustice. To compromise one's values for the sake of power is to lose.

We don't want the kind of systemic change that can be imposed from the top down. Democracy grows from the local level up. Please take responsibility for initiating change in your locale. The changes you institute in your city or county can make an impression on the continent, especially if they fit into a broader vision. Your testing ground could prove the viability of a concept that will eventually become the norm.

Probably the most essential change we can promote is the evolution to a multi-party democracy. Besides gridlock and negative campaigning, the two-party system is more easily controlled by elite people who wish to maintain the imbalance of power. When we decentralize party power from the grassroots, we undermine their control and make major changes, such as this constitution. So if you like some of the ideas in this pamphlet, please work to change your local governments, using tools like proportional representation and ranked preference voting.


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