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Semiformalishmaybe

Salsman Amendments

A few months ago, I bumped into James Salsman online; given our history of involvement in various projects, I probably should've met him earlier, likely offline, but oh well. He's one of the more prolific human posters I follow on G+. Recently he put together a proposal (not sure if he wrote it himself, nabbed something from Occupy's MoveToAmend project, or something else) for legal reform and put it up on a legal petition site. Some thoughts:First, let's get some links out of the way:

Let's take it apart; my summary of the proposal's in the first level of indentation, my comments on the second.
  1. This is a proposal for an act that would direct each state to hold a pebecite which would direct that state's congressmen to cooperate in draft and support of a Constitutional amendment that would do the following things
    • Surprisingly, there's legal precedent for this kind of mechanism. Feels like a weird way to do it, but maybe legally it's not
  2. Overturn Citizens United by replacing our current campaign finance system with public funding, eliminating first amendment applicability to corporations, limit federal campaign contributions to $100, etc
    • I broadly support this as worded
  3. Require contributions to superPACs be taxed at 100%
    • Seems excessive. Either ban them or don't be quite that punitive.
  4. Require congressional districts be redrawn after every census, with specific intent pursued (see fulltext)
    • Coming up with a way to actually put the intuitions into law would be a bear. Until someone had language they thought would do the job, I'm going to punt on this. I recognise the problem it's trying to deal with though.
  5. Prohibit political adverts on TV, shorter election season, etc, in keeping with how the Danes manage elections
    • Interesting. I think we'd need a lot more discussion on this although given what I know now I'm vaguely supportive. I think this is a change worth discussion for awhile publicly though
  6. Fund voting stations in proportion to their populations, to limit overcrowding in por neighbourhoods
    • Fine idea in theory, but land costs, transit costs, and population density differences might make the simple metric proposed by this pretty bad in practice. I appreciate the intuition
  7. Abolish the electoral college (and in doing so abolish the per-state chunking of votes), instituting runoff voting at the same time
    • I am unsure about the first part, perhaps leaning towards being supportive, and broadly supportive of the second. However, given how important voting is to our system, I would prefer this be part of a long national conversation rather than something we handle right now with potentially inadequate discussion
  8. Require use of instant runoff voting for all government elections
    • Unsure, leaning towards support. Like the last proposal, I think this needs to be part of a long national conversation
  9. Abolish property and sales taxes, replacing them with income/capital gains taxes with two brackets, 0% and some rate sufficient to balance the budget
    • Oppose. I appreciate the intuition, and the idea of a tax system that autobalances the budget is neat, but this is the wrong mechanism because it has hard income boundaries, it is bad for civics in taking most people entirely out of the tax conversation due to lack of responsibility, and property taxes have useful purposes apart from income in discouraging excessive land ownership
  10. Forbid subsidy of fossil fuels, subsidise renewable energy sources, and require the DoE to commercialise some specific fuel technology
    • Oppose for procedural reasons. Amendments should not be focused so tightly around things that might be well be irrelevant or very different in 30 years. This might be worth debating as regular legislation though.
  11. Require the ED to provide free pronunciation assessment software to the public
    • Oppose. Well outside the current (narrow) duties of the ED. I suspect this is James sneaking his personal interests in there, as he's spent a lot of time working on such systems
  12. Establish a single-payer national healthcare system
    • Support
  13. Require sentencing of subjects be changed so as to have the gross effect of bringing the sentences in line between people of various races
    • Oppose. It's impractical to guess how one's sentencing will affect the statistical averages as a whole, and also I have some doubts that the "same crimes" described in the cited paper are actually the same; it seems plausible to me that on average the higher sentencing for blacks for similar crimes is an expression of the structural disenfranchisement of blacks in general in our society, and if that's the case, it would be problematic to try to normalise the sentencing over population anyhow. I am willing to be convinced on this latter point, perhaps, although the earlier objection still seems like it would stand
  14. Equality of rights under the law cannot be denied or abridged on account of sex or sexual orientation
    • Isn't this already the case? Support if not, but if it is, this is redundant to existing law
  15. Abolish prohibition of drugs not known to be more harmful than alcohol
    • Support
  16. Ratify UN Conventions on Rights of the Child
    • I'd need to reread them to understand what that means exactly, although in general that kind of writing from the UN is not known to have practical legal effects; it's flowery language meant to rally around, not an actual convention
  17. Abolish the death penalty
    • Oppose. I am comfortable with a moratorium on its use that's either time-limited or condition-limited, but I reject its abolition
  18. Abolish asset forfeiture
    • Oppose. I recognise that there are good reasons to limit this, but its abolition would protect people and groups that are not truly vulnerable
  19. Abolish victimless crimes, blue laws, and religious proscriptions
    • Hell no, nuanced support, and huh? We need to recognise that blue laws are a result of local democracy at work; are we comfortable taking the power to legislate that away from communities? If so, sure, but we need to be willing to discuss it on those terms. Victimless crimes might mean a number of things, but usually it's code for legalising prostitution, which I strongly oppose; to coercive power of the market to compel sex for profit should not be permitted, and weaker laws against prostitution also enable human sex trafficking.
  20. Forbid restriction of voting rights of criminals unless they're in prison
    • Oppose. I believe this is a reference to the inability of felons to vote. I am comfortable with that inability.
  21. Abolish payment of interest on excessive reserve balances
    • Huh?
For what it's worth, I do not intend to support the proposal because of my concerns with some of its content.

You might also enjoy the further conversation on James' post on the specifics.

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