Those Evil Corporations!

I agree that corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions, and in that regard, they’re not ‘persons.’ That’s a step too far. But I’m here to defend the concept of corporations. Liberals need to get up to speed on corporate structures and why they exist. The long howling rant against corporations as a general concept discredits the progressive movement.

A corporation mostly isn’t a bad thing. There are non-profit corporations we rely on every day, and plenty of for-profit corporations that bring us everything from electricity to internet to vehicles. Corporations have been the construct by which new inventions in digital technology, medicine, and transportation have come to exist in the modern world.

The commercial incorporator has a specific objective—to streamline the business operation. Under the corporate umbrella, the business owner(s) can partner with other entrepreneurs, obtain materials, hire workers, own property, and produce goods and/or services from one checkbook, that is, the corporate checkbook, without having to do those things in his/her own name.

Likewise, the corporation can pay wages to the owner(s) and all employees and provide the corporation’s required contribution to Social Security and Medicare funds as well as unemployment  and disability insurance (required by law) and in many cases, health insurance—all without involving the owners’ private personal income and spending.

Whatever money the corporation holds in its bank accounts (and other investments) that is not spent on production/operations can be paid out in dividends to its stockholders. ‘Dividends’ is a simple concept: whoever put in money to help the company start and/or grow is paid a divided portion of the profits (usually quarterly) according to the amount paid in. If there are significant profits above and beyond operating expenses, the money paid in dividends can be an important income source for stockholders.

My disabled brother in law, for example, received big oil stocks as a gift from his father who had been at the leading edge of early oil exploration in Texas. Dividends from those stocks have made the difference for him and my sister in raising their family and surviving as they age. Even if we abhor the environmental degradation created by the oil industry, is there something evil about him receiving those dividends?

The concept of the ‘evil corporation’ is so ingrained that the term has its own entry in Wikipedia: “An evil corporation is a trope in popular culture that portrays a corporation as ignoring social responsibility in order to make money for its shareholders. …Evil corporations can be seen to represent the danger of combining capitalism with larger hubris.”

What is social responsibility then, that corporations may find easy to ignore? “Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.”[1]

Walmart, for example, has tried to claim social responsibility by its efforts to reduce waste, streamline shipping, and provide better work conditions and wages. Their 2018 Global Responsibility Report highlighted collaboration “with industry experts, NGOs, suppliers and the company’s own research to address risks pertaining to social issues in the supply chain.”[2] In general, Walmart’s approach to “environmental, social and governance issues goes beyond minimizing our own footprint or mitigating risk. We take a more assertive approach: sparking collective action to transform the retail sector for environmental, social and economic stability.”[3]

While naming laudable goals for one of the world’s largest corporations, Walmart continues to reap massive profits for its shareholders and especially the Walton heirs. “Sam Walton’s descendants have a combined wealth of $163.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. This is more than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, and nearly $70 billion more than the second-richest family in the United States, the Kochs.”[4]

Bernie Sanders has remarked that the Waltons earn more per minute than its employees earn in a year, and number crunchers have shown this is true (about $25,000 per minute). That imbalance would hardly decrease even if the company paid its 2.1 million employees $20 per hour. That would increase the total payroll by around $20 million, a drop in the bucket to the Walton heirs’ annual dividend payment of about $3.2 billion.  Such a wage increase would also go a long way to reducing employees’ need for social welfare support at taxpayer expense, currently estimated at $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

This kind of inequity in profits versus salaries is one of the reasons corporations are seen as evil. And there’s no question that over the centuries as the corporation has matured as a legal entity, it has also maneuvered ways to embody self-serving benefits into law. It is this unfair advantage of a large, organized, well-financed behemoth versus the unorganized ‘little man’ citizen that drives much of the present-day fury toward corporations.

We can’t rely on corporate conscience to ensure fairness in its wages or environmental conduct, a lesson we’ve learned time and again. Just as environmental laws have reduced egregious corporate pollution, policy makers should pass laws that apportion CEO pay and stockholder dividends according to employee wages to ensure a livable wage. After all, without the employees, corporations would have nothing. Unions used to provide this balance, but right-to-works laws and the move to overseas production has pulled the rug out from under them.

Nevertheless, it’s wrong-headed to blame corporate structure in general for doing what anyone would do, which is to pursue advantages that benefit its goals and rewards. The problem is with those entrusted to make and uphold our laws and their vulnerability to highly paid lobbyists who sell corporate demands on the economic benefits of providing jobs and ignore inequities that place millions of workers in a form of wage slavery.

Local economies have also suffered in cases such as Walmart replacing local businesses supplying groceries, hardware, automobile supplies, clothing, shoes, stationery, and more. Grinding the point home is the fact that most of the profits made by Walmart don’t stay in the local economy but rather aggregate in Walton heirs’ pockets. Just as destructive is the arrival of a Walmart that lasts long enough to drive out  local drug stores, for example, then after a few years moves away, leaving the community without a pharmacy.

Yet enterprises like Walmart, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and massive financial corporations looming over today’s landscape provide jobs, goods, and services that we could not have any other way. Local grocers had no way to provide the assortment and quality of goods available at Walmart. Is it better to have bananas in January or a local grocer stocking a few essentials? These are problems facing a world in transition to a global economy.

Short of catastrophe and the accompanying deprivation it would bring, there’s no clear path to return to a village economy where local farmers are the primary source of food and local craftsmen fashion the only available light fixtures, for example (assuming electricity would be available). Whether we like it or not, we’re accustomed to a world-wide marketplace with advanced delivery systems.

As far as the current political mess in which the Citizens United ruling gave corporations the right of an individual in making political contributions, again we must look to our legislators to remedy the apparent lack of appropriate law. A constitutional amendment may be needed in order to refine the definition of a corporation other than as a ‘person’ with all the same rights as individual citizens.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance. … The ruling effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.”

With the slow death of unions and other consumer/worker advocacy organizations, the political power of corporations has become an obscene force in politics. While the legal structure of corporations in and of itself is not evil, when large corporations spend obscene amounts to influence elections, there is no doubt that their actions are self-serving and not necessarily of benefit to the common man.

The hue and cry, then, must not be about ‘corporations’ but rather against the actions of corporations that undermine our system of government and its stated purpose to protect the rights of its people. The duty to oversee this Constitutional guarantee belongs to all of us as voters but in particular to our elected representatives. It’s past time for us to hold our legislators responsible for their action or inaction on this subject.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_responsibility

[2] https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/walmart-corporate-social-responsibility-efforts/521961/

[3] https://www.energydigital.com/csr/walmarts-2018-csr-report-20mn-tonne-reduction-emissions-sustainable-sourcing-and-more

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-waltons-spend-their-fortune-2017-7

Our Job as Citizens

As a nation operating under the concept of self-rule, we the people have to talk coherently about the issues. Mass shootings doesn’t solve our problems, but rather exemplifies our current failures as citizens. How did we get to this point?

Does the 2nd Amendment really grant the right to assault rifles and 100-round ammo clips? No, it does not. Nor do gun hoarders constitute a “well regulated militia.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

How did we not understand that waging a drug war against our own people would embed domestic violence in our society? Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition when, for fifteen years, underworld gangs selling illegal alcohol used their wealth to purchase weapons and political protection? How could Reagan and Congress think it was a good idea for “surplus” military weapons and equipment to be sold to our city police forces and used in commando tactics within our neighborhoods? How could we not see the horrible outcome of spending more money on prisons than education?

We have to talk about immigration—what will stop the mass migration of people to our borders? For over a century, our corporations have been aided and abetted by our military to plunder Latin America for its natural resources and cheap labor. We have blood on our hands in the same tradition as Spain for its 300-year devastating occupation of the same lands. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest more heavily in helping solve problems in these countries so the people don’t have to leave home in order to have an economic future free from violence? What kind of future are we creating for ourselves by destroying Latino families and traumatizing innocent children?

We have to talk about climate change. How can anyone still believe this is fake news? Are there truly so many people who don’t grasp the science of this issue that our entire nation’s public policy can get away with denying climate change exists? What happens when water supplies dry up, crops die on the ground, and there isn’t enough food?

The impacts of climate change will increasingly affect the daily lives of people everywhere in terms of employment and livelihoods, health, housing, water, food security and nutrition, and the realization of gender equality and other human rights. Impacts are expected to hit those living in poverty the hardest, partly due to their more prevalent dependency on the very natural resources affected by climate change and also because they have less capacity to protect themselves, adapt or recuperate losses.

New York Times: A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises By Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai Aug. 6, 2019

We have to talk about population—we can’t continue blindly producing more people who need food, jobs, and a place to live when all of those resources are simultaneously shrinking.

In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet. Now in 2019, there are 7.7 billion. By the end of the century the UN expects a global population of 11.2 billion.

In 2015, there were approximately 141 million births. In the same year, around 57 million people died. It’s clear why the global population is increasing: there are many more births each year than there are deaths. Around 2.5 times as many.

If we think we have an immigration problem now, just wait.

Each of us bears a responsibility to learn the facts on these and any other issues facing us as individuals, communities, and as a nation, engage in discussion with others with the goal of finding common ground, and then participate in the implementation of solutions through community action and voting.

The Great Killing Time

The killing won’t stop anytime soon. A subclass of white men can’t find the means to adapt to a world where they are not dominant. They don’t know how to see themselves except as warriors striking down those they perceive as enemies.

The enemies are not just people of color. The “enemies” are thick in the world around these sad failures of evolution. Social change driven by modern science and technology has left them with no fields to plow or wilderness to conquer, no tribal fires. Those were skills living deep in their DNA. Vacant of all but amorphous anger, they sit on their couches, helpless against their sense of violation in a time that requires reasoning and acceptance of Other.

Christian Picciolini, a white nationalist who has stepped away from that way of thinking, remarks on the mind-set: “Typically what I found is, people hate other people because they hate something very specifically about themselves, or are very angry about a situation within their own environment, and that is then projected onto other people.”[1]

Whatever the symbols of Other, they will hate. Their hate will fester. Their testosterone drives them to act. What act will satisfy the hate, the need to eradicate the threat?

Murder.

But it’s not just a failure to evolve that drives the urge to kill. As a society, we’ve failed to address the impact of rapid technological and social change. Our schools should be teaching logic, debate and rhetoric, critical tools for rational humankind. Reasoning skills are required if we are to control our emotions and peaceably resolve conflict.

Logic: sensible rational thought and argument rather than ideas that are influenced by emotion or whim; the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of deductive and inductive arguments and aims to distinguish good from bad reasoning.

Rhetoric: the ability to use language effectively, especially to persuade or influence people.

Debate:  to talk about something at length and in detail, especially as part of a formal exchange of opinion

Shamefully, today public policy discussed even in the U.S. Senate, the highest arena of government, disintegrates into personal attack. The public square, now virtual instead of physical, suffers the same: personal attack instead of reasoned debate.

Shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Call them names. Unleash rage against the Other.

The more we engage in personal attacks, the less progress we achieve in achieving public policy that works for us all. This time will go down in history as the Great Killing. Whether it’s the unevolving who will die or those who reason is yet to be seen.

Can we look forward to a change in educational programs? Can we retrofit people by demanding they go through some kind of training? Can we require our elected officials to focus on the goal instead of wading into partisan squabbling?

The killing will continue.

~~~

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/conversation-christian-picciolini/595543

No Surprises

German citizens saluting Adolf Hitler at the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Before the sun rose on Wednesday July 24, 2019, before the widely heralded appearance of Robert Mueller before committees of the U. S. House of Representatives, Donald Trump and his cohort had long since established their response. The game plan had been distributed to their colleagues in the Senate and to their buddies at FOX News. Most importantly, the plan had been well-rehearsed by Republican House committee members who would have a front row position from which to attempt to undermine the hearings.

There would be no outrage, no cry over the evidence presented. Republican committee members would discreetly and not so discreetly question Mueller’s competence and motivation. They would grandstand their outrage at the ongoing travesty against ‘their’ president. There would be no acknowledgement of any facts presented either about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to sway the vote or Trump’s various attempts to obstruct the investigation.

Afterwards, the tactic was to shrug off the hearings, ho hum, the Democrats beating a dead horse. Oh dear, how upset they must be after all this hoorah and still Mueller didn’t hand them a smoking gun. A big fat nothing.

In truth, the Democrats never expected a smoking gun from Mueller. Their strategy for Mueller’s testimony was to create a televised iteration of the Mueller report for all the Trump supporters out here in the countryside who never had and never would read the actual report. They wouldn’t even read news summaries of the report, instead willing—even eager—to take Trump’s word for it, whatever it said.

Trump had it right when he said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and no one would care. He took that to the bank. Get cozy with Russians endeavoring to subvert the election? No problem. Pretend it didn’t happen—they’ll believe it. Do everything possible to sidetrack the subsequent investigation? Whatever works. Nobody can prove it if Trump doesn’t talk and the testimony of key players like Don McGahn never sees the light of day.

Democrats should be credited for their effort to pull back the curtain on this shameful and arrogant corruption of American democracy. Their mistake, once again, is assuming that Trump supporters care about our nation more than they care about their boy. Trump legitimizes their ignorance with three-word sentences and double-speak. He shares their terror of “Other” whether other religion, other skin color, or other ethnicity, and they can’t chortle enough over their sense of ascendancy in a nation where religion, skin color, or ethnic background are not supposed to make a difference. A nation FOUNDED on the concept that all of us are created equal.

Democrats forgot that ignorance doesn’t recognize its own ignorance and isn’t eager to discover it.

The thread of idealism progressives have shared throughout our nation’s history has changed faces many times. It ran through the revolution even though many colonists clung to King George. It suffused the push to end slavery, to grant women the right to vote, and to form labor unions whose members sacrificed lives and livelihood to end child labor, gain a 40-hour work week, and ensure safe work environments. The same thread has continued through liberal ideas behind school integration, rights for the disabled, and a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

The same thread colors political discourse today, resisting the onslaught of racism and hate freed from its restraints by Donald Trump. It rises in the election of women, of people of color, to public office. It thrives in the hearts and minds of those who say “Vote Blue No Matter Who” as progressives seek to reclaim the dignity and honor of the presidency.

Trump and his horde of pitiful followers would rather risk the future of the nation than love their neighbors. They would rather spout hate speech than address the problems we face. There are solutions, and we can find them. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

 

Our Ideals: At What Cost?

It’s a noble idea to do whatever it takes to bring out the best in every child. Even nobler is the determination to go the extra mile for children with disabilities. But while those ideals successfully pushed through legislation requiring schools to provide testing and special education for youngsters with such needs, they were less successful in funding those requirements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, is still waiting for full funding.

A January 8, 2019 article in Education Week outlines this failure in stark detail:

Congress never funded the IDEA for the full amount that was authorized when the law was first signed. At that time, Congress estimated that it cost states twice as much to educate a student with disabilities as it does to educate a general education student, and the law authorizes the federal government to give up to 40 percent of that excess cost to states.

Congress has never come close to that mark; its $12.3 billion contribution in fiscal 2018 is more like 15 percent of the excess cost.

An additional $85 billion would be required — per year — for the taxpayers to provide full funding for its 40% of the cost. And that says nothing about the 60% of the cost required from the states. When facing a total cost of over a quarter trillion dollars per year for special education, it’s no wonder legislators have shied away from mandating adequate funding.

In poorer states like Arkansas, there’s no doubt that this is an unachievable goal. As noted in my January 2019 blog post, The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion, in many cases, special needs students are placed into regular classrooms without the support they need, leaving teachers and general education students to bear the sometimes outrageous burden posed by special needs students.

For example, schools simply do not have the money to hire a caretaker for every profoundly intellectually disabled (ID) child or tutors who might be able to make some small improvement in the life of an ID child. The end result is that, under force of law, schools must accept these children or risk being sued by distraught parents.

Few dare draw back the curtain on the real story resulting from the ADA and IDEA. It’s not just the finances, which haven’t even been calculated in over twenty years. Assessment is performed unevenly often with minority students on the losing end. Not only is funding inadequate, but distributed as unevenly as the assessments.

A 2014 report by New America, a Washington-based think tank, asserted that the out-of-date, complicated formula that the federal government uses to distribute money to states has resulted in small districts getting more federal money per student than larger districts, and shrinking school systems receiving more federal dollars than school districts that are growing.

No one has calculated present-day costs to teach an ID student, or assessed the impact of increasing numbers of autistic children. No one has figured out how to prepare classroom teachers for the increasingly common occurrence of disabled children in their classes without the caretakers they need.

Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?

How much is such well-intentioned legislation misleading parents into holding unreasonable expectations for their child with serious disabilities, that he or she can lead a “normal” life?

This Education Week article should be required reading for every American. We’ve placed the burden of educating special needs children on our school systems without providing adequate funding. All our children are paying the price. Not only the children, but the teachers who are underpaid in normal circumstances, and highly underpaid as well as undertrained for the task of providing proper services to disabled children.

At the very least, it is past time for studies and legislation — with adequate funding — that will reflect the current reality of special education—how many students and how impaired, the actual costs of educating them to the greatest extent possible, and which address the collateral necessity of educating general education students in a manner that advances our society.

 

We Can’t Hide Behind a Wall

The New York Times — Central American migrants looked through the fence as a Border Patrol agent stood guard near the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

We are responsible for the chaos south of our border. The Mexico tariff plan underway by the Stable Genius and his minions promises to make the refugee/immigration situation far worse. Now not only will the people of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala be forced to flee their countries, but also the people of Mexico. If we thought the immigration ‘crisis’ was bad before, just wait.

Obviously Trump knows nothing of Central American history. He’s apparently incapable of thinking past his juvenile impulse to hit anything he doesn’t like. Now it’s up to Jared Kushner to meet with Mexican ambassadors to work out a plan that, in Trump’s view, would make Mexico responsible for stopping refugees from arriving at our southern border.

Jared Kushner is left to perform many duties for his father-in-law, not the least is to help craft a working relationship between Israel and Palestine. The qualifications for this 38-year-old’s work on behalf of the United States is that he grew up rich, is a Jew, and has experience in real estate. And he’s married to Trump’s daughter who is apparently the only person who can successful manage the Orange Toddler.

Kushner’s resume? “As a result of his father’s conviction for fraud and incarceration, he [Kushner] took over management of his father’s real estate company Kushner Companies, which launched his business career. He later also bought Observer Media, publisher of the New York Observer. He is the co-founder and part owner of Cadre, an online real-estate investment platform.[1]

In other words, Kushner has zero qualifications for his important role in foreign relations. Nor has he been vetted by Congress.

What we absolutely must recognize is that the situation at our southern border is entirely the result of our actions in those countries. Since the 19th century, we have intentionally worked to destabilize their governments in order to profit off their resources.

Guatemala was once the center of a sprawling Mayan empire. Then the Spanish came and destroyed their culture, stole their wealth, and enslaved the people. When the Spanish left,

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubicowas overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability.[2]

In El Salvador, corporate agriculture took over the arable land to grow coffee. Peasants were left with few options for sustaining their families. Land reform efforts were brutally repressed with the support of the United States.

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups.[3]

The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.[24] An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992… 

The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Salvadoran government was considered “friendly” and allies by the U.S. in the context of the Cold War. By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.[4]

In Honduras, the third Central American source of refugees seeking asylum in the United States, Spanish invasion was followed by enslavement and occupation of cropland. The U.S. took over where the Spanish left off.

In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to several US-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast as a result to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 by the Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.

In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe Honduras, publishing a book called Cabbages and Kings, about a fictional country, Anchuria, inspired by his experiences in Honduras, where he had lived for six months. In The Admiral, O. Henry refers to the nation as a “small maritime banana republic”; naturally, the fruit was the entire basis of its economy. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, “his phrase neatly conjures up the image of a tropical, agrarian country. But its real meaning is sharper: it refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.”

…During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador, the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and also develop an airstrip and modern port in Honduras… The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units…[5]

The United States has substantially contributed not only to economic and political instability in Central America, but also to the proliferation of gang and their brutal impact on the people of these nations. Consider, for example, the gang situation in El Salvador.

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, took the lives of approximately 80,000 soldiers and civilians in El Salvador. Throughout the war, nearly half of the country’s population fled from violence and poverty, and children were recruited as soldiers by both the military-run government and the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans relocated to Los Angeles, California. This conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords, but the violence in El Salvador has not stopped since.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees had gotten involved in gang violence [as victims of existing L.A. gangs]. During this time, the U.S. War on Drugs and anti-immigrant politics had been popularized. Following these sentiments, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed, which called for deportation of “immigrants–documented or undocumented–with criminal records at the end of their jail sentences.” Throughout the years following, thousands of Salvadorans had been deported back to El Salvador. Gangs that had originated in Los Angeles, namely Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were spread transnationally through this process.[6]

The gangs learned on the streets of Los Angeles how to intimidate, rob, assault, kidnap for ransom, and murder with impunity. Their ability to run rampant over the native populations of Central America has not been addressed. President Obama understood the history of the situation and issued an official apology for our role in the violence.[7] He crafted a plan that addressed our immigration problem at its source. The plan involved aid to Central America and a program to screen vulnerable children there.

Trump not only reduced the aid, he killed part of the screening program.[8] No wonder that the steady stream of refugees only increases at our southern border. We should also not be surprised when Mexicans start to join that stream if the U.S. implements its tariff plan, putting Mexican jobs at risk. These problems deserve far more thought and understanding than Trump or his son-in-law are capable of providing.  

 

 

 

An End Run Around the Rights of the People

Arkansas stands at the brink of losing one of its most time-honored traditions, that being the rights of its citizens to gather signatures on petitions that would place a measure directly before voters. Since the success of the medical marijuana petition and the election of Republican Leslie Rutledge as state attorney general, the rush has been on to find a way undermine this right.

Last week, a Senate committee endorsed legislation that would make an enormous change to the process. With the sole dissent of Democrat Will Bond of Little Rock, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee recommended full Senate approval of Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Senator Matt Pitsch, R-Fort Smith. Such Senate action usually predicts passage of a bill.

The problem lies within the requirement for a suitable ballot title, the text that must appear on the actual ballot for voters to read before casting their vote. Requirements are that the title must give an honest yet succinct explanation of what the measure would do in practice. The more complicated the proposed law, the more difficult to write an effective ballot title.

Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution:

Initiative and Referendum.

The legislative power of the people of this State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of the Senate and House of Representatives, but the people reserve to themselves the power to propose legislative measures, laws and amendments to the Constitution, and to enact or reject the same at the polls independent of the General Assembly; and also reserve the power, at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any entire act or any item of an appropriation bill.

Initiative. The first power reserved by the people is the initiative. Eight per cent of the legal voters may propose any law and ten per cent may propose a constitutional amendment by initiative petition and every such petition shall include the full text of the measure so proposed. Initiative petitions for state-wide measures shall be filed with the Secretary of State not less than four months before the election at which they are to be voted upon; provided, that at least thirty days before the aforementioned filing, the proposed measure shall have been published once, at the expense of the petitioners, in some paper of general circulation.

Title. At the time of filing petitions the exact title to be used on the ballot shall by the petitioners be submitted with the petition, and on state-wide measures, shall be submitted to the State Board of Election Commissioners, who shall certify such title to the Secretary of State, to be placed upon the ballot; on county and municipal measures such title shall be submitted to the county election board and shall by said board be placed upon the ballot in such county or municipal election.

Unfortunately, this original wording does not provide a reasonable method by which petitioners might create a ballot title for such a measure. If the state follows the method describe above, petitioners would spend money and effort gathering signatures only to have the measure thrown out upon review by the election commissioners if they found the ballot title insufficient.

A 2013 interview of Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Elana Leigh Cunningham Wills (EW) by veteran journalist Ernest Dumas (ED) describes this problem encountered during a time she worked in the attorney general’s office.

EW: I would say that and I have said this before. It [ballot titles] was the most frustrating duty that I performed at that office. Different AGs approached it in different ways… It’s a very frustrating duty and I…When I was working for Winston Bryant we had a lot of ballot titles submitted and, you know the task of the attorney general is to be neutral on the proposal and yet to summarize it fairly and accurately. Well, the sponsor has to try to summarize it fairly and accurately first. Usually, a lot of times, they didn’t do it to the attorney general’s satisfaction, so we would try to edit that ballot title and make sure it was accurate and that the voters were not being misled by what they were being asked to vote on. Well, the problem we would run into is that sometimes it’s difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

ED: Yes.

EW: That’s the problem. You have a measure that may be neither concise nor clear nor, you know, sensible and yet we’re required to write a ballot title that is concise and clear and convey an accurate picture of what voters are being asked to vote on. …

ED: Well, they’re still having to rewrite the marijuana initiatives, and they’re just having to rewrite them over and over again, and the gaming things.

EW: Well, it’s frustrating. So I think when Mark Pryor came in he really took a hard look at what is wrong with this process and asked how can we get this fixed. So I think it was decided that if the text of their measure was too unclear or too uncertain for it to be summarized fairly that we had to send it back and say we can’t fix it for you but you’re going to have to fix it. Clarify this before we know how to summarize it in a ballot title. That’s led to a process of really sending it back and sending it back and sending it back until it’s…You know, the attorney general could take it over and completely redo it for them but it’s not his measure. He doesn’t know their intent and if he does that then it becomes his measure. So that’s tricky.

… I think the way you read it, it’s not required until you submit your signatures to the secretary of state. The statute providing for the attorney general’s review is not in the Constitution. It’s a statute that was passed in the ‘50s saying that the attorney general should review it.[1]

The 1950s statute led to the following rule:

Prior to circulating the petition and gathering signatures, a Sponsor of a statewide initiative or referendum petition must submit the proposal to the Arkansas Attorney General. The full text of the measure along with a proposed popular name and ballot title must be submitted. The Attorney General will issue an opinion on the popular name and ballot title. If rejected, the Sponsor can amend and resubmit to the Attorney General.[2]

Now Pitsch with his Senate Bill 346 seeks to reverse that rule and statute and put the petitioners in an untenable position. In last week’s hearing, Melissa Fults, the moving force behind the medical marijuana petition effort through three election cycles, testified at the hearing.

“So you have done all this work, and tried to do everything right, and at the end, the Election Commission can say, “Oh, no, we don’t like your word. It is done. You are out.” There’s no chance to correct anything they think is wrong [about the ballot title or popular name] and so people who have been out there working for over a year and spent anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 even with volunteers, have done it for nothing because we don’t get to know if [the title or popular name] will be sufficient to go on the ballot.[3]

Ironically, also testifying against the bill was Family Council president Jerry Cox:

“For the last 100 years … everybody a has read the constitution a certain way and now we are reading the constitution a different way and that hinges on the word ‘certify’ and what does that word mean?”

Pitsch argues that the wording in the Arkansas constitution is “unequivocal.” His take on the law is that the details of its implementation have been misinterpreted. Pitsch admits that the requirements of SB346 will result in greater expense to petitioners. “There is going to be a fiscal impact to the people in the petition process,” he states.

That is an understatement and avoids the key point. Despite his advice that petitioners “find an attorney and make sure that on the ballot title, [it’s sufficient],” the fact is that without the review and certification of the ballot title before the collection of signatures, few if any citizen initiatives will be mounted.

Which, perhaps, is the underlying intent. It’s no secret that our governor along with many other conservatives now in control of state government are not happy that marijuana is now growing legally within the state’s borders, and that it will be available to thousands of Arkansans medically certified for its legal use. It’s also no secret that like many other states, a strong effort is underway to legalize, regulate and tax the production and sale of marijuana for recreational use.

Oh, the shame.

Somehow previous attorneys general managed to muddle through this process in the interest of upholding the intent of Article 5 until the election of the current AG, Leslie Rutledge, who was sued last year for stonewalling. The case was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In a brief order today the Arkansas Supreme Court granted attorney David Couch’s request for an order requiring Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to approve his proposed initiated act to raise the minimum wage or submit a more acceptable version within three days.

Rutledge has refused 70 of 70 requests for ballot initiatives since 2016. She’s claimed they were unclear and said they were so unclear that she couldn’t fix them. She argued it was wholly in her discretion to decide on the sufficiency of the ballot titles.

Couch, who’d submitted a proposal for an increase in the minimum wage virtually identical to one approved for the ballot and adopted a couple of years ago, argued that the state law required Rutledge to approve or improve ballot submissions within three days. To do otherwise violates the Arkansas Constitution’s provision of initiative power to the people.[4]

In presenting his measure to committee, Pitsch argued rather disingenuously that petitioners can simply hire an attorney to write a ballot title and provide whatever other assistance might be needed for a petitioner to meet approval. But he has no idea what he’s talking about. In my personal experience in the early days of the medical marijuana efforts in 1999, a total of three ballot titles were written over a period of months by an attorney before the attorney general finally approved a version. In the case cited above, the litigant is an attorney.

The state moved in the right direction in the 1950s with its statute requiring AG review of a ballot title. The intent of the original Article 5 of the Constitution guaranteeing the right of citizens to petition must be upheld. Requiring petitioners to gather all signatures before learning whether the ballot title will be approved is in virtually all cases an insurmountable barrier to this right. If Ms. Rutledge can’t muster the wherewithal to do her duty, then it’s beholden on the state to make provisions.  The Pitsch bill takes the matter in the wrong direction.

~~~

[1] https://www.arcourts.gov/sites/default/files/…/Elana%20Wills%20Interview.pdf

[2] https://www.sos.arkansas.gov/uploads/elections/2017-2018_I__R_Handbook_Jan_2018.pdf

[3] “Proposal moves ballot measure,” Michael R. Wickline. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Friday February 22, 2019. 4B

[4] https://www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2018/05/23/supreme-court-orders-rutledge-to-act-on-minimum-wage-petition